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David Suzuki says that we dont know the unintended consequences at the molecular level of genetic engineering. He uses the analogy of taking Mick Jagger and putting him in with a symphony orchestra and saying Now, make music. He say that the context of a gene is the genome, and we simply dont know enough now to be able to anticipate all of the consequences of GM. What is your response to this argument?

A:Expert Answer

Genes — portions of the chemical abbreviated as DNA — have been moved around from one species to another by humans since the 1970s, and by Mother Nature for eons. In every case, the anticipated outcome has been realized. For example, humans have been moving the gene for insulin from humans to bacteria for almost half a century (and now provide insulin for almost all insulin-dependent diabetics). In every case, the recipient bacteria “read” the human insulin gene recipe and make human insulin. They never make anything else from the human insulin recipe, just insulin. When the exercise fails, it fails because the bacteria produce either no insulin or too little insulin to be of use, but the genetically engineered bacteria have never made something other than human insulin. This history of success is also true with plants; genetic engineering of genes into plants has never resulted in the recipient plant’s producing something other than what the gene recipe coded for in the original host. The gene may not work at all, or it may not express enough of the new protein to be useful, but it has never produced something unexpected, something other than what the transferred gene coded for. In the early days of genetic technology, especially in the 1970s, when Dr. Suzuki still worked in a lab, some critics (including Dr. Suzuki) worried that a transferred gene might result in something other than the expected outcome, either because the recipient species used a different DNA code or because of some unspecified locus, or “position effect,” and proximity to other genes in the recipient. But in all of the genetic engineering done to date, starting with the most diverse transfer imaginable (from a human to a bacterium), such an unexpected outcome has never happened.