GRO: Breakthrough that could create monsters

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  • 6 years ago
  • Posted: October 21, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Have you watched those science fiction movies where some scientists, after some experiments gone wrong, transform normal human beings into monsters? Well, it might not be a science fiction anymore.

GRO VERSUS GMOs

I am sure that this title may make some heads turn and shake. For the first part, a majority of people are still grappling with the meaning of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). We surely have not had a full comprehension and the possible implications of the GMO. Yet when we were beginning to have a hang of it, another breakthrough appears. And now it gets complex. But let’s begin from the fundamentals. Scientists have proved that at the basic level of life, we are all the same at the same. The DNA (and/or RNA) that encodes (RNA decodes) the instruction for making proteins which in turn make the whole organism is the same for every living thing. Yes your DNA structure is exactly the same as that of a bacterium. The chemical compounds (nucleobases) Guanine, Adenine, Thymine, and Cytosine (GATC) make up the nucleotides that link together to form the DNA. RNA on the other hand is made of Guanine, Adenine, Cytosine but instead of Thymine, they get Uracil hence (GAUC). Several DNA structures come together to make a long stretch of DNAs called a gene, which determines the various characteristics of an organism. Now, traditional genetic engineering has always involved scientists putting entire genes, that is, functional strands of hundreds of nucleotides into cells. Often the original genes are not messed up at the basic structural formation; or rather they do not mess up with the nucleotides’ initial arrangement.

 THE GIST OF GRO

The Genetically Recoded Organisms (GROs) revolution gets one lower than GMO by going down to the very bases that make the nucleotide strands; GRO messes up with the constituents of DNA, the nucleotides. That is as basic as it ever gets. These bases are the DNA codes which are repeated in a given pattern to form long strands. But no one has ever tempted to dismantle the very basic which are the bases.  Let me use the computer analogy here. It would be a kin to saying that scientists working on the GMOs have been able to install new software into the target organisms thus helping them to perform unique functions that they could never do initially. For example an organism may be altered this way to produce resistance to a particular disease or enabled to produce a unique product like a particular alcohol. By doing a GRO, what this signifies in our computer analogy, is like creating a totally different operating system. This means giving microorganisms a totally new platform from which they can manufacture whatever new thing that is desired.

BENEFITS OF GRO

The advantage of this unprecedented event is to give the E.Coli test organism a peculiar code that other organisms including viruses cannot read. This development has incredible potential in ensuring that the organisms responsible for production of things such as biofuels or to reduce pollution can be made resistant to infection (bacteria are also infected by the way).

Second and most important, the GMO technology has been accused of creating genes that can spill into other unintended organisms within the environment creating totally unclear results. For example, GMO rice has been proven to transfer their genes to weeds around where they are being grown. This is a problem solved by GRO because Scientists hypothesize, and it sounds very rudimentary, that GRO organisms cannot share their codes with other organisms. This way, any fear about the genes from GROs contaminating organisms in the environment is eliminated.

Last and most critical to biotechnologists and nutritionists as well is the fact that as a result of rewriting the genetic codes of microorganisms, the Scientists were able to make non-natural amino acids. Normally, there are only 20 amino acids in nature and attempts to make other non-standard amino acids have been in efficient and laborious. But with GROs, the scientists successfully made the 21st amino acid, effectively and efficiently. This is like initially we have had only the 0s and 1s as the basic fundamental of computer language with attempts to make the superposition of 0 and 1 (for quantum computer language) being futile, but with a new technique we can now easily make this superposition. GROs ability to make new amino acids means possibility of generating, naturally, useful proteins that will mean a lot on the structures of organisms that can be created.

This has the immense benefit of allowing researchers to develop totally new products; be they medicine or food product.  The invention of the GRO opens up a totally new of rethinking Genetic modifications and especially at the genetic code level. GRO, in essence, opens the possibility of scientists creating the science fiction monsters.

What is your opinion on the topic?
Benard Oloo
A social and technical issues writer. When not writing he prepares lectures and teaches Food Science and Technology at Egerton University and Eldoret Polytechnic. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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