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What is Snorkel Rice?
The latest agricultural research technology on rice production includes the development of "snorkel rice", which is a new strain of rice plant which could grow “snorkels”. These snorkel extensions can elongate at a fast pace as a way of surviving flood waters and are described as hollow pipes in between two nodes. Through these extensions, the rice plant is able to survive even when submerged underwater. This rice production innovation is aimed at providing solutions to the perennial rice shortage, especially in Asia and Africa. Flash floods often occur in these countries, thus causing vast majority of their rice crops to drown and die.
This new strain was invented in the Philippines and is the subject of further research by scientists in Japan. Although dubbed as "Snorkel rice that could feed millions" there are still controversies surrounding the propagation of this new rice strain.
For one, the rice is not expected to yield in great numbers hence, scientists in Nagoya University are still in the process of introducing the “snorkel” genes of this rice plant to more responsive high-yielding rice varieties. They estimate that the “flood-friendly” rice will be available to rice breeders in three to four years time in its full bodied capacity as a Genetically Modified (GM) crop.
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Environmental Issues Against GM Foods
In the Philippines, the International Rice Research Institute studies are being challenged by climate issues. How will the farmers be able to raise high yields of water-dependent crops when food-growing areas are subject to climate changes in a short span of time? A food growing area can be flooded today but can turn parched in the weeks ahead.
However, the challenges met by this rice variety are not only its ability to survive harsh weather changes and capacity to produce high yields. Its very nature as a genetically modified produce poses several environmental challenges. In fact in the Philippines, the Greenpeace Movement and other nongovernmental organizations have been successful in getting the Philippine courts’ approval to bar the entry of “GM or Genetically Modified“rice into the country.
What is Genetic Modification (GM)?
Genetic modification is a process in genetic engineering wherein a gene that possesses a desirable trait is identified and isolated with the aid of restriction enzymes. These enzymes are found in bacteria which have the ability to cut the DNA as part of its defense against invading viruses.
The isolated gene with desirable traits will be introduced to a recipient plant or animal and once it becomes part of the genome or full set of genetic information of the recipient, the plant or animal is now recognized as genetically modified. In order to produce a high rate of success for the introduced gene to combine with the genes of its recipient, the gene modification process requires the use of antibiotics and vaccines.
What are the Environmental Issues Against the Snorkel Rise as GM Food?
- GM foods are known to cause allergies especially among children.
- The development of antibiotic resistance that can affect the ability of the body to respond to antibiotic medications if and when needed;
- The unknown effects of the genes in other organism that may feed on it or cross breed with it. It is feared that this can affect biodiversity since this is tampering with natural processes of the flora and fauna and possibly even the soil.
- Monopoly or domination of related food production by a few companies;
There are several more issues raised against GM organisms including that of its advantage as a pest resistant crop. If pests and insects are said to be adversely affected by genetically modified crops, then it will basically have the same effect in humans. Hence, if pests partake of our food crops and flourish by benefiting from them, it is indicative that the same results will happen to humans if pests and insects die as they feed on GM crops.
The question is, to what extent can this agricultural research on technology of genetically modified snorkel rice provide solutions to rice production problems, when it is also expected to cause more harm as a genetically modified food?
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