image by: Tony Webster

So we are creating and modifying the biology of the world to serve our needs. I don't have a problem with that, cause we've been doing that for tens of thousands of years. So chill out - Neil deGrasse Tyson

The basic argument for genetically altered foods is that here is a way we can increase and improve our food supply. The basic argument against is that we don't really know what we are doing to our species or how the changes will affect future generations. "Frankenfood", as genetically engineered grub is called by some detractors, has been working its way onto our supermarket shelves and into our pantries and refrigerators. In most cases the products are unlabeled, and there is no way of telling whether or not that tasty cob of Iowa sweet corn you had for dinner last night was actually produced by splicing the corn chromosome with the gene of the intestinal protein of a dung beetle. Why would anyone do that, you ask? Maybe it ripens the corn in half the time. Maybe it sweetens the sugars faster. Maybe it makes the corn resistant to earwigs and other insect pests. But what if, 2 or 3 generations down the road, we find our descendants frolicking through piles of barnyard dip in search of that perfect little sheep poop larva?

Okay, so maybe this is no laughing matter. "We are what we eat," someone once said. But let's face it, these days it's impossible to tell what exactly it is that we are putting into our bodies. Genetically altered food is already happening. For instance, scientists have successfully spliced the gene of a flounder into the DNA code of tomatoes. The result -- tomatoes which are able to tolerate colder temperatures. Apparently a similar procedure is being attempted with the mixing of genetic material of potatoes and sole. The aim here is to produce a spud that has all its eyes on the same side and will therefore be easier to peel. Even basic grains, such as rice, are being tampered with. It won't be long before your Rice Crispies, instead of making "snap, crackle, pop" noises, will be belting out choruses of "meow, hee-haw, moo". Rumours abound that the Quaker Oats Company, a subsidiary of PepsiCo Inc., has branched out into an even more lucrative offshoot, Quacker Foods. Quacker is about to launch a huge ad campaign to introduce its new genetically modified breakfast cereal, "Special DNA's", a designer food that tastes good and reduces cavities at the same time.

If we suspend our “wall of disbelief” just a little more, we can imagine a world where Frankenfoods are the norm. In this world, as of the Institute of Genetically Altered Munchies in Battle Creek, Michigan puts it, “We here at the Institute operate under the principle that anything is possible and, if it is possible, then why not do it? The future is now and what’s out there already in terms of genetic engineering is just the tip of the iceberg (and I don’t mean iceberg lettuce, ha ha).”

According to Dr. Frankenheimer, there have been many recent breakthroughs with Frankenfoods. Scientists are having phenomenal success introducing DNA from the common house cat into sockeye salmon, thus producing a fish that constantly grooms itself and eventually makes its way to your dinner plate without having to be cleaned. A recessive gene from the Great White Shark when added to a bottle of ordinary Pinot Noir, now produces a great white wine with a real bite. A little creative splicing with rat DNA will give you an Atlantic lobster with a delicious 24 inch tail. An obscure gene obtained from wild boars in Borneo, when introduced into the chromosome chain of a chicken, will give the eggs the flavour of ham, bacon or sausage. What do you get when you cross the genetic material of a Jersey cow and a Galapagos sea turtle? It's no joke. You get homo milk with a shelf life of 200 years. Put a little African honey bee into a mocha java coffee bean and you get a buzz that lasts 3 days. Peanut and strawberry genes are being spliced to create a single product which tastes like peanut butter and jam. Lovers of lamb who are still concerned with percentage of body fat will be really excited with experiments being performed on sheep. It seems that their DNA, when injected with genetic material from border collies, will cause the sheep to chase themselves around the fields and nip at their own heels. The meat, after butchering, is 73% leaner.

A whole new vista of opportunity is just around the corner at the Institute. There are plans under way for tests to insert inorganic polymers into the genetic codes of living organisms. For instance, free radical polymers from synthetic polyester clothing have been spliced into Red Delicious apples to produce an apple that will not wrinkle with age. Molecules from the leaking fluid of silicone breast implants, which were recalled by manufacturers because of health risks, are now being used as genetic building blocks to produce turkeys that are 100% white breast meat ("what we have here, basically, are walking turkey breasts").

Last but not least comes a radical leap forward in genetic engineering. Dr. Frankenheimer calls it "auto genesis" and explains it this way. "In auto genesis, people eat food that has their own DNA added to it. It is to cell building what blood doping is to cycling. We are finding an increase in cellular regeneration and a decrease in aging. What we may have here is the proverbial 'Fountain of Youth'!"

If Dr. Frankenheimer is right, we may find that the maxim, "we are what we eat" may soon be replaced by "we eat what we are".

About the Author

Shilo Zylbergold lives on a small island somewhere in the southwest corner of British Columbia, Canada. He grows vegetables, teaches math, and is a columnist for a local paper. Send complaints to [email protected]

Shilo Zylbergold

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