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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Columnist: Arthur, Patrick Kobina

The GM Technology Debate Raging in Ghana

The Scientific Ghana Series 1: The GM Technology Debate Raging in Ghana

The debate over the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in Ghana has been raging fiercely and I am particularly excited about the awareness this increased media activity will create. In this article I will attempt to put forward my take on this GMO debate in Ghana as a way of helping the wider society to examine this critical issue in a broader sense. I am particularly encouraged to write this piece after a thorough discussion I had with two of my brothers on this GMO issue confronting Ghana. They appear to have carefully followed the radio and television debate for many weeks but that have been left with major gaps in their understanding of GM technology. These two gentlemen are both very well educated and they are both successful career people, but they are understandably unaware of all the sides of the issues. GMO issues regard the following: 1 - Whether we need to worry, 2 - The origins of this genetic technology, 3 - The purpose of it and, 4 - The impact going forward into the future. I will address these four aspects in this article.

First of all, there is no need to worry when it comes GM foods and their use in all forms and purposes in Ghana. The process of genetic modifications (GM), which is the means by which living things change their hereditary materials, occur in nature on daily basis. This is how organisms evolve. Genetic modification in nature unlike the man-made ones (i.e. GM technology) is mostly random and requires strong selection to be effective. Every living being undertake this important process. It is one of the reasons behind the different traits children possess which appear to be beyond what they inherit from their parents. GM on the other hand is highly selective and need driven. GM like any other technology requires careful and sensible application for it to be completely safe. All technologies in this world are inherently dangerous. Take any household cleaning agent and you will have a lethal weapon in your hand. The safety lies only in the "appropriate use".

Secondly, the origins of modern GM are Mother Nature herself. The entire tools scientists use in devising GM organisms are all obtained from other living things. What scientists have done is to use creativity and the drive to solve urgent societal problems to overcome the slow pace of genetic modifications as they occur in nature. A typical example is the development of medical insulin required by people suffering from type 1 diabetes. The initial method of production was from the pancreas of foetal calf. It is estimated that that the world may need a whole continent of Africa full of cattle in order to meet the current global demand for insulin. This is where GM technology comes in handy. Scientists who were moved by humanity’s need for insulin have been able to device a means by which the gene for insulin is copied from humans and transferred into bacteria that grows easily in a broth. The dramatic change of fortune is that, we no longer need to rear cows until maturity before getting insulin from its fetus.

Thirdly, the purpose of every technology is to simply improve on life. Those who have vehemently opposed the introduction of GMOs in Ghana would have also prevented the use of jet planes in Ghana had their permission being sought. Airplanes are accepted today through a highly regulated industry. Anytime flaws that are discovered to endanger life; measures are quickly taken to correct any problems that arise from time to time. GM needs to be viewed and used the same way.

Finally, the impact of genetic modification technology is going to be extremely powerful and beneficial to society. We are already going a step further and design brand new living things using existing living things as seeds. Scientists have already designed and assembled new genetic materials from scratch. Existing living cells have then been used to boot these genetic materials into operation to yield a cell of unique kind. These technologies are going to change our life in a remarkable way. The moral question is to make it safe to ourlives. The human imagination is unstoppable. We in Ghana must start digging now.

*Patrick Kobina Arthur (PhD) || parthur14@gmail.com || http://pakar1-corner.blogspot.com/ *