Week 3: HIV Tomatoes?
Okay, so this title clearly requires a bit of context but don’t worry it all comes together in the end. Let’s start by talking about GMOs. Yikes. But what exactly is a GMO? Dubbed as “Frankenfood” it undoubtedly has a negative reputation among most today. But what is it that incites so much fear in us about the idea of “genetic modification”?
Let’s face it: Colorado tomatoes are nothing to ride home about. That’s probably because they’re from Florida, or California and have been picked while they’re still green so they don’t over ripen on the truck ride to Colorado Springs. But being picked so early has its downfalls; theses premature tomatoes have failed to receive nutrients and proteins that make them flavorful.
At one point, scientists had proposed a clever way to resolve this problem. Let’s examine some background information first. DNA is transcribed into mRNA, which is translated into proteins, which perform a myriad of functions in cells. A long time ago it was discovered that plants had a pretty nifty defense mechanism against viruses: they are able to recognize double stranded RNA viruses and target them for destruction. Back to our tomato situation: fruit ripens due to a gene coding for the expression of ethylene. When you put a pre-ripe fruit next to a banana to ripen, it’s because the ethylene secreted by the banana will stimulate ripening. Scientists figured that if they could somehow slow down the expression of the ethylene gene in a tomato, it would slow ripening. This would allow tomatoes to be picked when they were riper and not over ripen before reaching the store. After the tomato transcribes the ethylene DNA into mRNA scientists engineered the tomato to make another mRNA from the same gene that would bind to the first mRNA. What do we get? Double stranded RNA, which will be seen as a virus and degraded. Bottom line? Less mRNA means less ethylene protein translated: slower ripening.
This idea seems pretty clever, plausible, and benign. Yet it was not taken quite as well. Double stranded RNA? They’ve put a virus in a tomato. HIV is an RNA virus right? Does this tomato have HIV?
Now I’m not saying all GMOs are completely harmless but I think it’s important to understand what something actual is before forming a definitive opinion. I guess my point is that GMOs and non-GMOs aren’t necessarily antitheses…maybe more like tom-A-to tom-AH-to.