In favour of Genetic Engineering

by Chidinma Odili


Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose genes have been altered for a particular purpose. The cells of every living organism contain DNA, which encodes all the proteins required for that organism to function. Each protein is encoded by a specific region of the DNA referred to as a gene.

Genetic engineering is the genetic modification of naturally existing organisms to produce organisms with more favorable features, like making certain crops pest-resistant. In genetic engineering, a scientist can take a gene from one organism and transfers it into another organism. 

GMO Precedence

The first genetically modified plant was a tobacco plant created in 1983 that was altered to be resistant to antibiotics (Zeljezic, 2004). This modification ensured that when the farmer disinfected the farm, the tobacco plants could remain unaffected while pathogenic bacteria that caused plant diseases were killed.

In 1994, the FDA approved the sale of GMO tomatoes whose genes had been altered to delay ripening. The FDA declared these GMO tomatoes to be as safe as traditionally bred tomatoes (FDA). Delayed ripening is beneficial because it means that tomatoes could be stored for longer periods and can be transported across the country without fear of spoilage. This meant that farmers could widen their market and increase profits. It also means that tomatoes which are rich in antioxidants could be made available in places where they are not naturally grown.

Arguments in favor of patenting of GMOs

While arguments exist against the patenting of GMO products, I think that businesses that develop modified organisms should be able to preserve their property rights. The development of a GMO requires specialized skills, time, and resources (I know this first-hand as a PhD student in Biochemistry with a specialty in genetic engineering). It requires intellectual input from the scientist. It seems only fair that this mental and intellectual work which produces a viable product should be rewarded.

Currently, there exists genetically modified organisms with the ability to produce insulin for treatment of humans suffering from diabetes. This solves the problem of inadequate supply of bovine insulin (from pigs). With these organisms, insulin production using cell production lines was simplified. Innovations such as this entailed investment of time, skill and financial resources and are worthy of recognition. Patenting of GMO innovations gives the company time to recoup money spent on research and development.

Argument against patenting of GMOs

The argument against GMO patenting stems from the fact that genes exist in nature and within humans and so technically, scientists do not “discover” them (Lamb). Others argue that genetic modification only fast-tracks what would have ordinarily happened in nature via selective breeding (in perhaps a few hundred years). This can be countered with the argument that by the time nature catches on, it may be too late to help the people who could benefit now from the genetically modified food or drugs.

But the argument will remain that most tools used in genetic engineering processes are sourced from other living organisms. The “desired” gene to be inserted into an organism to create a modified organism was not manufactured by the scientist. Even the enzymes used in the processes were sourced from naturally occurring organisms, and so in effect, the scientist is not inventing anything.

However, most inventors do not make new products from thin air. Products are made from previously existing products, for example cars are made from steel, plastic and other raw materials found in nature. The only difference in the case of genetic engineering is that the tools of trade are alive. Which brings to me to the question, is the intellectual work of a genetic scientist less significant than that of other scientists simply because their tools of trade are living organisms? Is the impact of the discovery of the genetic scientist, say the creation of drought resistant or pest resistant species of a widely used crop, less felt than perhaps the invention of cars? Could we not argue that because of the more pressing nature of the problems of food security and health addressed by genetic scientists, their intellectual ability and skills are perhaps more useful. Of what use is a car to a sick and dying diabetic man if there is no supply of insulin and the organism that could have been modified to produce enough insulin was non-existent?

I may be partial, seeing that I am genetic scientist, but I do believe that despite the source of raw materials, the genetic scientist puts in as much, both intellectual and manual, in designing modified organisms as a step towards solving global problems. Their intellect should be rewarded, and their work should be patented both as a reward for labor and as an incentive for other upcoming scientists.


Lamb, J.S. (n.d.). Gene patenting: Ethical and legal issues. Science Policy for All.

US Food and Drug Administration. Science and history of GMOs and food modification processes. Retrieved March 2, 2022 from Science and History of GMOs and Other Food Modification Processes | FDA

Zeljezic, D. (2004). Genetically modified organisms in food – production, detection, and risks. Arh. Hig. Rada Toksikol. 2004 Nov. 55 (4): 301-12 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this work are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Auburn University.