Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Benjamin. Benjamin Wonders, “Does food evolve?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Benjamin!
Have you ever noticed how things tend to change over time? It can be hard for kids to grasp this concept, because they've only been alive for a short time. As a result, they don't have the same perspective as the adults in their lives.
Just ask any adult, though, and they'll tell you all kinds of stories about how things have changed since they were kids. Would you believe there was once a time when there was no Internet? It's true! There was also a time when you couldn't just skip through television commercials. Can you imagine?
It's only natural for things to evolve over time. This is especially true in the areas of science and technology, where major breakthroughs now seem commonplace. But what about in other areas of life? Take food, for example. Food hasn't really changed much, has it? After all, pizza is still pizza and macaroni and cheese doesn't seem to have changed much over the years.
New and improved ears of corn don't appear on television commercials like the latest smartphones do. However, the food you eat does evolve by the natural course of reproduction and artificially by humans.
A biologist will tell you that all life continues to evolve slowly due to changes in DNA over time. This would include the food you eat, which is made up of all sorts of different life forms, including plants and animals.
Modern scientists aren't content to let evolution do its work at such a slow pace, though. Experts in many different fields work hard every day looking for ways to make the food you eat safer, healthier, and more abundant. Because there are seven billion people on Earth needing fed, scientists are working to make plants and food animals grow faster using fewer resources.
One method that has become popular in recent times involves genetic engineering. By altering the DNA of plants and animals in laboratories, scientists have created what are known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Proponents of GMOs believe they are the future of food. They cite many benefits, including increased resistance to pests, larger crop yields, improved nutrition, and faster growth cycles. Practically, this means that farmers can grow larger, healthier crops in a shorter amount of time with fewer pesticides.
Not everyone is a fan of GMOs, though. Many detractors believe GMOs are unnatural and possibly unsafe. Some people believe tampering with a plant's or animal's DNA is morally wrong and could have disastrous consequences. When it comes to food and human psychology, many people have a negative gut reaction to the idea of mixing genetic engineering with the food they eat.
However, supporters of GMOs point out that science is on their side. Numerous studies of GMOs have supported their safety, as well as their agricultural benefits. As the popularity of GMOs continues to grow, more studies will be needed to ensure their continued safety and utility.
For example, one common concern that many scientists validate is the worry that GMOs will lead to decreased genetic diversity. The concern is that, if all the members of a species have similar DNA, then they would all be susceptible to a threat or a change in the environment.
Those concerned with genetic diversity point to the 19th-century Irish potato famine as an example of what could go wrong. Nearly all the potatoes in Ireland were wiped out by an invasive pathogen, because they were genetically identical. If there had been genetic diversity, such as different varieties of potatoes with different genetic compositions, some would likely have adapted and survived.
Scientists who develop GMOs are aware of concerns about genetic diversity. Many believe that, with careful development over time, they can maintain genetic diversity and thereby maintain the biodiversity that is important to the environment.