Dr. Maxham explores how innovations in biotechnology, enabled by the intellectual property rights that protect them, have led to the “Gene Revolution,” where scientists use genetic engineering to dramatically improve human life. In order to combat widespread misinformation about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), she traces mankind’s long history of improving plants, animals, and microorganisms to better serve our needs.
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The Gene Revolution
By Amanda Maxham
Mankind has been improving plants and animals for millennia. Simply by selecting and breeding those they liked best, our ancestors radically improved upon wild species. Today’s biological inventors, with a deeper understanding of genetics, breeding, and heredity, and with the protection of intellectual property rights, are using the technology of genetic engineering to start a “Gene Revolution.”
In the field of medicine, custom-built genetically engineered microorganisms are brewing up rivers of otherwise rare human hormones, life-saving medicines, and much-needed vaccines. In agriculture, scientists are combining their understanding of plant genetics with laboratory techniques of modern molecular biology to “unlock” the DNA of crop plants. By inserting genes from other plants or even common microorganisms, they are able to give plants desirable traits, solving problems that farmers have faced for millennia—faster and more precisely than ever before.
But despite its successes and a bright future, biotechnology is under attack by activists who spread misinformation and foster consumer mistrust. They have been directly responsible for onerous regulations and other hurdles to innovation that are threatening to stifle what could and should be the “third industrial revolution.”
In an effort to combat this misinformation, this paper situates genetic engineering within mankind’s long history of food improvement and then highlights how genetic engineering has dramatically improved human life. In it, you’ll find 29 plants, animals, and microorganisms, from insulin-secreting E. coli to engineered cotton, from cheese-making fungus to chestnut trees, that represent the promise and possibilities that the Gene Revolution holds–if we hold precious and continue to protect the freedom to invent and the power of scientific innovation.