Journal of Life Science and Biomedicine  
J Life Sci Biomed, 8(5): 84-89, 2018  
ISSN 2251-9939  
Review on Genetic Engineering and Omitted Health  
Mastewal Birhan , Muluken Yayeh and Amebaye Kinubeh  
Department of Veterinary Paraclinical Studies, College of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences, University of Gondar, Gondar, Ethiopia  
Corresponding author’s Email:; ORCiD: 0000-0002-0984-5582  
Original Article  
PII: S225199391800013-8  
Central to the development of green lifestyles is the consumption of foods that by dint of  
their status as chemical free locally produced and/or free of genetically modified  
ingredients, reduce the environmental impact of food provision. Yet there are many other  
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factors, such as health concerns, that may also encourage the consumption of ‘green’ foods.  
Commercialization of genetically modified organisms has sparked profound controversies  
concerning adequate approaches to risk regulation. Scientific uncertainty and ambiguity,  
omitted research areas, and lack of basic knowledge crucial to risk assessments have  
become apparent. A major conclusion is that the void in scientific understanding  
concerning risks posed by secondary effects and the complexity of cause-effect relations  
warrant further research. Initiatives to approach the acceptance or rejection of a number of  
risk-associated hypotheses are badly needed. Further, since scientific advice plays a key role  
in genetically modified organism’s regulations, scientists have a responsibility to address  
and communicate uncertainty to policy makers and the public. Hence, the acceptance of  
uncertainty is not only a scientific issue, but is related to public policy and involves an  
ethical dimension.  
The world has been flooded with a vast amount of the writings and actions of root-and-branch proponents and  
opponents of genetic modification. There has also been a proliferation of arguments about differing  
philosophies of regulation and labeling [1].  
Biotechnology has been applied as one of the eco-techno-political technologies in the 21st century. Many  
countries have developed their technological strategies to improve their productivity in different fields. In  
developing countries scientific and technological bases are weak and infrastructures are not strong [2]. The  
formation of new biotechnology firms is mostly a strategic response rather than based on a real appreciation of  
environmental threats. It is maintained that the applications of this technology provide potential contributions  
to sustainable agricultural productivity and new inputs for resource-poor and small-scale farmers [3].  
Since the second half of the 1980s, when the first genetically modified (GM) organisms were introduced for  
the industrial production of medicinal products, there has been a heated debate over the applications of gene  
technology. To date, however, the debate has failed to clarify an agreed direction of policy, and has instead run  
into stalemate. Sharply opposed parties of stakeholders and experts characteristically advocate conflicting  
opinions. for the moment, the public is left on the sidelines, while scientists, stakeholders, and other experts are  
in dispute [4].  
Environmental factors including damage from insects and competition with weeds for resources  
necessary to support growth contribute to decreased yield from field crops. Historically, synthetic insecticides  
have been used for protection of plants from insect damage and herbicides have been used to control weeds.  
While they have been effective, more recent developments have applied the tools of biotechnology to produce  
genetically modified (GM) crops for insect and weed control. Early generation GM crops including insect  
resistant maize and herbicide tolerant soybeans express proteins from foreign sources that endow them with  
these particular phenotypes. They have been cultivated in the United States for nearly 20 years with significant  
Birhan M, Yayeh M and Kinubeh A. 2018. Review on Genetic Engineering and Omitted Health Research. J. Life Sci. Biomed. 8(5): 84-89;  
benefits including decreased use of pesticides and herbicides, yield increases, decreased labor costs and  
improvements in quality [5].  
In recent years, the use and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has been an issue of intense  
public concern and, in the case of foods, products containing GMOs or products thereof carry the risk of  
consumer rejection. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines GMOs as those organisms in which the  
genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally [6]. As genetically modified (GM) foods  
are starting to be present in our diet concerns have been expressed regarding GM food safety [7]. Although the  
WHO declares that the GM products that are currently on the international market have all gone through risk  
assessment by national authorities, the risk assessment of GM foods in general, and crops in particular for  
human nutrition and health, has not been systematically performed as indicated in the scientific literature [8].  
Therefore, the aim of this review, I tried to summarize the current status, available evidence, and present  
several clinical and nonclinical data concerning mainly the use of genetically modified organisms and their  
impacts in the treatment of different industrial foods, highlighting both the opportunities and the limitations of  
genetic engineering and omitted health research.  
Based on the idea that any genetic information from any source can be expressed in any organism, genetic  
engineering has, for example, looked at improving the protection of agricultural crops. Other sought  
advantages include shortening the delay to obtain a new variety, improving the yield and quality of crops,  
producing high value-added molecules (like pharmaceuticals or vitamins or biopolymers for industry), and  
improving the nutritional quality of plants [9]. In general this process consists of three different steps:  
1. Detection (screening of GMOs) in order to gain a first insight into the composition of the food and  
agricultural product.  
2. Identification to reveal how many GMOs is present, and if so, whether they are authorized within the  
EU (or other countries with regard to their regulations). A prerequisite for the identification of GMOs is the  
availability of detailed information on their molecular make-up.  
3. Quantification, in order to determine the amount of one or more authorized GMOs in a product or seed  
lot, and to assess compliance with the threshold regulation. For this approach it is necessary to get a better  
understanding of DNA/protein degradation during processing and of the robustness of the analytical methods  
Safety evaluation strategies  
At an early stage in the introduction of recombinant-DNA technology in modern plant breeding and  
biotechnological food production systems, efforts began to define internationally harmonized evaluation  
strategies for the safety of foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) [11] .  
Two years after the first successful transformation experiment in plants (tobacco) in 1988, the  
International Food Biotechnology Council (IFBC) published the first report on the issue of safety assessment of  
these new varieties. The comparative approach described in this report has laid the basis for later safety  
evaluation strategies. Other organizations, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and  
Development (OECD), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health  
Organization (WHO) and the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) have developed further guidelines for  
safety assessment which have obtained broad international consensus among experts on food safety evaluation  
GM Crops  
The main advantage of GM food crops is their potential promise of future food security, especially for  
small-scale agriculture in developing countries. The main arguments of GM supporters are safe food security,  
improved food quality, and extended shelf-life as the reasons why they believe in GM crops which will benefit  
not only both consumers and farmers, but also the environment [13].  
As Belcher et al discuss, a critical question is what impact(s) biotechnology companies should take into  
their account. For example, in corn, the productivity impact is mainly yield increase, and in soybeans the GM  
Birhan M, Yayeh M and Kinubeh A. 2018. Review on Genetic Engineering and Omitted Health Research. J. Life Sci. Biomed. 8(5): 84-89;  
technology allows saving on inputs of chemicals and labor. Moreover, the companies claim that GM technology  
will promote food security while they are also healthier, cheaper, and more stable. Yet, the nutrients will have  
more quality and better taste. The issue is the impact of international regulations on the food situation in the  
developing countries. In these countries, approximately 800 million people remain seriously malnourished,  
including at least 250 million children [14].  
One main debate and disagreement has already been made on the claim that biotechnology can potentially  
help developing countries to go for such advances as higher yields while shorter growing duration, asking for  
less chemical fertilizers, advanced pest management, higher drought resistance, and increased nutrients  
quality. Such advantages of GM crops would mitigate public hesitation about GM technology [15]. Some also  
acknowledged the potential of plant biotechnology to improve plant breeding and crop production in  
developing countries.  
In 2006, global cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops exceeded 100 million hectares for the first  
time. In the European Union (EU), the only GM crop that is currently cultivated is Monsanto's maize event  
MON810, which is resistant to the European and Mediterranean corn borer. Throughout 2006 and 2007, the  
area planted with GM maize almost doubled, reaching the 100 thousand hectare milestone, spread over six  
countries. Despite this enthusiasm, GM maize plantings still cover less than 2% of the total EU maize cultivation  
area. With this evolution, the question now arises of whether GM crops can ‘coexist’ with conventional and  
organic farming while still preserving freedom of choice for consumers [16].  
The same processes are also wiping out small efficient family farms and replacing them with inefficient  
and unhealthy industrialized food systems under multi-national agribusiness corporations. Such corporations  
are supposed to increase production of food, increase efficiency of food production, improve the economic  
situation of farmers and improve patterns of food consumption. However, the evidences point to the opposite  
direction. In fact, the beneficiaries of such corporations are neither farmers nor governments of in the South,  
but making more money for the North, as Senator McGovern of the US Senate had stated, “Food security in  
private hands is no food security at all” because corporations are in the business of making money, not feeding  
people [17].  
Nevertheless, the critics of genetic engineering of foods have concerns, not only for safety, allergenicity,  
toxicity, carcinogenicity, and altered nutritional quality of foods, but also for the environment. In this context, it  
would be interesting to note that the recent research has contested the claims of reduced pesticide use by  
genetically modified cotton (Bt cotton) due to the rise of secondary pests (other than the main cotton pest the  
Evolution of insect resistance threatens the continued success of transgenic crops producing Bacillus  
thuringiensis (Bt) toxins that kill pests. The approach used most widely to delay insect resistance to Bt crops is  
the refuge strategy, which requires refuges of host plants without Bt toxins near Bt crops to promote survival  
of susceptible pests [18].  
Transgenic crops producing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins kill some key insect pests and thus can reduce  
reliance on insecticides. Widespread planting of such Bt crops increased concerns that their usefulness would  
be cut short by rapid evolution of resistance to Bt toxins by pests [19]. However, economic performance is highly  
variable and seems dependent more on the market characteristics, support structures and culture of the  
systems in which Bt crops are deployed than on the Bt crops themselves. Given their specificity for key target  
pests and well demonstrated lack of impact on beneficial insects, Bt crops provide an important new platform  
for sustainable IPM systems, one that is compatible with a full range of other tactics [20]. These results were  
confirmed in a recent research, based on a survey of 1000 cotton farm households in China. It was then found  
that farmers have perceived a strong increase in secondary pests after Bt cotton was introduced [21].  
Organic Farming  
The recent growth in organic farming has given rise to the so-called “conventionalization hypothesis,” the  
idea that organic farming is becoming a slightly modified model of conventional agriculture [22]. Concurrently,  
of avoids chemical [23], which are generally expensive for small-scale farmers who have a livelihood farming  
system and earn normally much less than large-scale farmers who can afford expensive technologies.  
Additionally, small farmers cannot easily eliminate the harmful effects of chemicals which normally need big  
funds to deal with. Yet, there is a fair amount of debate on whether or not of is a lower-cost technology [24], and  
promotes [25]. Another matter of debate is production costs which can potentially be increased by the adoption  
of, more specially, if major soil protection or restoration activities are needed. For instance, if farmers need to  
Birhan M, Yayeh M and Kinubeh A. 2018. Review on Genetic Engineering and Omitted Health Research. J. Life Sci. Biomed. 8(5): 84-89;  
control weeds mechanically, they may need bigger funds to buy or rent such vehicles than chemical ways.  
Although in other cases, they might be able to reduce the costs through biological ways of control [26].  
Safety Assessment of Proteins Used in GM Crops  
Candidate proteins to be expressed in GM crops are compared and contrasted with proteins that are  
allergenic or toxic using a weight of evidence approach consisting of individual and independent studies. None  
of the individual studies or data is necessarily more or less important than the others when considered in the  
context of weight of evidence but typically numerous studies are conducted.  
In the US, it has been estimated that 68% of children and 12% of adults are allergic to one or more foods  
[27]. The percentage decreases with age as many people outgrow the allergy. The incidence of food allergy  
outside of the US is unknown. Based on the US population, it is also known that the majority of food allergies  
are attributable to a relatively small number of foods that include peanuts, soybeans, cow’s milk, eggs, fish, shell  
fish, wheat and tree nuts. Many other foods have also been reported to cause allergic reactions though the  
frequency of these sensitivities is much lower [28].  
Persons that are allergic to particular foods possess antibodies to certain proteins present within those  
foods and the primary method of treating food allergies is for the allergic person to simply avoid consuming  
them. Much is known about the particular proteins in foods to which persons are sensitive and they are often  
referred to as allergenic proteins. This is not necessarily a technically accurate appellation since it implies that  
these proteins present some risk of allergic reactions in anyone when in fact they only present a risk in persons  
that are sensitive to them. Nevertheless, key learning about these proteins have been applied to the safety  
assessment of foods from GM crops. In particular, safety assessments are designed to ensure that the developer  
did not select a protein to which a sensitive person could be exposed to unknowingly. Potential for allergenicity  
is assessed for proteins to ensure that they are not similar enough to cross react with the antibodies present in  
persons with food allergies.  
The source of the proteins is an important criterion in selection of candidate proteins. This is one  
component of the safety assessment for individual proteins called History of Safe Use [29].  
However, each situation needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis. For example, peanuts may not be the  
best source for proteins to be used in GM crops like maize or soybeans simply because peanuts are known to  
possess more than one allergenic protein [30]. Regardless of the identity of the individual protein there would  
likely be concerns that any protein from peanuts could possibly be allergenic. Alternatively, if a protein from  
peanuts were to be selected to be expressed in a GM peanut plant then no new hazard has been introduced with  
regard to potential allergenicity.  
In addition to allergenicity, some proteins are known to exist in nature that is capable of causing adverse  
effects when consumed. Though many are found in venomous snakes and insects or are produced by  
pathogenic bacteria, there are some that are found in plants such as kidney bean lectin and ricin [31].  
Accordingly, proteins used in GM crops have also been assessed for potential to cause adverse effects if for no  
other reason that they too are proteins. There are obvious overlaps in the methods used to assess the potential  
toxicity and allergenicity of proteins.  
Specifically, consideration of history of safe use of the source of the protein, bioinformatics comparison to  
known protein toxins, and in vitro resistance to digestive [32]. The primary basis of these considerations being  
that proteins selected from sources that are not known to produce toxic proteins, are not similar in sequence to  
known protein toxins, and are readily degraded in the presence of digestive enzymes are unlikely to be toxins.  
There are differences in the bioinformatics analysis compared with the allergenicity assessment to note.  
First, there are no predefined criteria that identify a “match” between two proteins such as the 35% identity  
over 80 amino acid sequences for allergenic proteins. Second, there is currently no annotated and updated  
database in which the sequence of protein toxins is maintained [33]. Rather, what is commonly conducted is a  
comparison to all known protein sequences in the NCBI BLAST database [34, 35] followed by manual inspection  
Birhan M, Yayeh M and Kinubeh A. 2018. Review on Genetic Engineering and Omitted Health Research. J. Life Sci. Biomed. 8(5): 84-89;  
to determine if sequence similarities are present. Consideration of these data provides strong evidence for  
whether the protein intended for use in a GM crop is likely to introduce a hazard [36].  
It is indeed hard to give a straight answer or simple solution on how food insecurity is being solved. Due to  
the possibilities offered by GM technology in this new century, societies will need to make some important  
choices about the type of world that they wish to build up. The politicians in the developing countries are  
recently faced by a crucial question on how GM technology should be viewed in relation to off. It has been  
estimated that hunger affects an estimated 1 billion people many of whom live in countries with developing  
economies. Population growth and decreased availability of arable land will continue to confound this issue.  
Modern biotechnology has the potential to be a significant tool in fighting hunger as it has been well  
established to address agricultural problems such yield loss from insect infestation, completion with weeds, and  
even drought. Biotechnology has been used to improve the quality and yield of field crops in many parts of the  
world for more than 20 years. It is more specific and relatively fast in development compared with traditional  
breeding techniques. A comprehensive safety assessment has been conducted on GM crops before the products  
are commercialized that includes evaluation of proteins used in these crops for potential allergenicity and  
toxicity as well as analysis of the composition of the crop and often feeding studies in rodents and livestock  
species in support of demonstrating substantial equivalence.  
Authors' contributions  
MB, MY and AK conceived the review, coordinated the overall activity, and reviewed the manuscript.  
The authors’ heartfelt thanks will also go to University of Gondar for recourse supporting.  
Availability of data and materials  
Data will be made available up on request of the primary author  
Consent to publish  
Not applicable.  
Competing interests  
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.  
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