Thursday, June 23, 2011

GMO you didn't!

Articles like this one from irritate me. Not just because they blatantly get basic scientific principles wrong, TV and movies do that all the time. What annoys me is that in the case of genetic modification, all they do is perpetuate ridiculous myths about mad scientists toiling away in their underground lairs creating frog-potatoes that will devour us all. A basic understanding of genetics and the role of DNA would be quite refreshing in a lot of science reporting.

In the article mentioned above, there is one line that urks me, that is "...fundamental flaws in the monitoring of horizontal gene transfer from genetically modified animals disposed of in offal pits." This sentence conjures up images of DNA oozing through the soils and some cow licking it up and growing an extra udder or something. Horizontal gene transfer only occurs in bacteria and some fungi and yeasts. I'm guessing the genetically modified organism (GMO) in question here is actually some sort of bacteria in the cow's gut, not the cow itself. Genes can not spontaneously transfer themselves from one animal to another and instantly incorporate themselves into the DNA of every cell in their body. Viruses can achieve something close to this, but they're not the products of science. If animals could transfer genes by ingesting the tissues of another animal the vegetarians might actually have a valid argument. I'm not sure if the reporter's parents have had this conversation yet, but in order for animals to exchange genetic material, they need to have sex. For that to happen with GMO, first GE animals need to be produced, then they need to escape, then they need to fornicate with similar species, then the offspring need to do the same in order for the gene in question to be perpetuated through a population. To prevent that, it would be wise not to carry out this research in the animals natural habitat. However, cows tend to be reasonably well contained, so a GMO outbreak would require a lot of faulty number 8 wire.

Science reporters should really attend a primary school science class or two, or at the very least do a quick search on Wikipedia before submitting their article.

1 comment:

  1. You'd struggle to find a dedicated science reporter on a single NZ paper/web/radio/tv news team.