Posted by: thescoundrel | June 4, 2008

Playing God with Our Food – Are We Creating The Next Super Bug


There is a lot of genetic engineering that takes place in this day and age. Like it or not, it is a Pandora’s Jar that has been opened for the good and the worse. To paraphrase a quote from Star Trek, a lot of the expanse we are exploring is territory where mankind has never went before. Those explorations have had its advocates and opponents since it’s early days. I often teeter back and forth between the two views. A lot of these engineering experiments involve genetic splicing of animal genes into vegetables to make them hardier. Though I am a meat-eater, I can understand where this process would be objectionable to many vegetarians. What troubles me more is when is when the process leads me down darker applications. It seems every so often that we find ways to contaminate our food supplies. The Mad Cow disease dilemma comes to mind – where we created a dangerous sequence by taking infected cattle, slaughtering them then using the product in cattle/animal feed and then reintroducing the infection right back into the food supplies. The system gambled and lost. Which brings me to today’s rant.

Most food bacterial contamination occurs from careless cross-contamination by food handling. That is because bacteria like many other creatures on this planet have become specialized to live and exist in a particular environment. Bacteria like salmonella and e-coli tend to live only in the colons of animals because they have specialized but they can survive in other locations when spread. We usually spread the bacteria from meat products to vegetable products through handling. So when I am having the most trepidation about genetic wizards playing with our food supplies is when they start going godlike with their games and start playing with things that could influence these types of specializations. I realize that there is no growth and advancement without taking chances. But it makes one wonder how long before all this playing with crossing animal/human/bacteria genes with vegetable genes gives bacteria the link they need to jump species and resiliently adapt to and create a new strain of superbacteria. Can you imagine not being able to eat a raw vegetable because some bacteria like salmonella or e-coli have learned how to easily survive within a vegetable structure without needing cross-contamination to spread? Yet every time some experiment splices animal/human/bacteria genes into a vegetable species we are offering up such an opportunity for the creation of superbacteria. I often think we are our own worst enemies with our insatiable need to new and improve every species on the planet. You build a better mousetrap you help evolve a smarter mouse. And every time we read about some outbreak of contamination we have to ask ourselves is it normal or have we created another superbug?

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Responses

  1. The automatically generated links above –> “Tougher Times for Drug Resistant Bacteria” and “Gut Bacteria Species Becoming One” are interesting reads.

  2. “Can you imagine not being able to eat a raw vegetable because some bacteria like salmonella or e-coli have learned how to easily survive within a vegetable structure without needing cross-contamination to spread?”

    Not a good prospect indeed. Well, maybe 12 year olds who hate their veggies will cheer.

  3. Scoundrel,

    I think your concerns are misplaced. The proven food dangers you mentioned — mad cow disease and bacteria contamination — are not the result of genetic engineering but are the result of giant corporations not observing basic food safety measures in order to try to make more profit.
    For example, the latest mad-cow disease scare was the result of a giant slaughter house processing cattle so sick they could not even stand on their own! All the bacterial contamination of food cases lately have been the result of food growers and processors not observing long-standing basic food safety procedures.
    It is foolish in my view to spend more time worrying about theoretical new dangers from new technology which have not yet claimed a single life than you spend worrying about lax government regulation allowing well known and documented dangers to creep into our food supply.

  4. Soylent Green is people!!!!

    Automatic links? My head is spinning just trying to read all the manually created ones.


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