Risks and hazards of Biotechnology

  • Biotechnology is a new scientific discipline that aims in making human life more luxurious.
  • Biotechnology operations on one hand produce several valuable goods and products, whereas on the other hand, massive risks are associated with these products.
  • Some of the risks and hazards associated with biotechnology are as follows:

1. Risk for human population:

a. Organism pathogenicity:

  • Most of the organisms which are industrially operated are harmless but some are highly pathogenic.
  • Pathogenic organisms like tuberculosis, Bordetella pertussis, several viruses, Clostridium tetani are still used for the production of vaccines and diagnostic kits.
  • If these are organisms are mistakenly released in the environment, it may cause disease and pose a huge threat.
  • According to organism pathogenicity, microorganisms are classified into these five groups:

i. Group I: This group includes microorganisms that have never been identified as causative agent of human diseases and are not threat to the environment.

ii. Group II: Organisms included in this group may cause disease to humans and hence might cause hazards to lab workers.

iii. Group III: The organisms kept here possess severe risks to the lab workers but comparatively small risk to the people outside. Prophylaxis is available with effective treatment.

iv. Group IV: The organisms cause severe illness in humans and serious health hazards to the lab workers and people outside, with no effective prophylaxis and treatment.

v. Group V: Organisms of this group possess more severe threat to the environment outside than the lab workers and outside population.

b. Allergy: Allergy is associated with the consumption of genetically modified food, pharmaceuticals and recombinant proteins.

c. Toxicity:

  • It is associated with genetically modified organisms (GMO) which are often used for the production of single cell protein (SCP) for human food and animals feed.
  • Unpredictable gene expression may lead to serious illness and toxicity.

d. The pathogens, bearing drug resistance might be released in the environment.

2. Risk for the environment:

  • Persistence of genes or transgenes or transgenic products in the environment without bio-degradation.
  • Resistance acquired by target organisms or susceptibility of non-target organisms towards biopesticide (Bacillus thuringiensis). Some insects become resistant.
  • Unpredictable gene expression in the transgenic plants and GMOs that possess a risk to environmental balance.

3. Risk for agriculture:

  • Generation or emergence of weeds or super weeds may occur. If some plants are GMOs and are sown in the field, it may overlap and interfere with the normal cultivated crops.
  • Alteration of natural nutritional value of crops due to application of Recombinant DNA technology.
  • Loss of biodiversity and reduction in the yield of crops.

4. Risk of interaction with non-target organism:

  • Genetic pollution through pollens and seeds.
  • Generation of new line viruses or other microorganisms.
  • Transfer of foreign gene to naturally occurring organisms.

5. Other risks and hazards:

  • Ethical issues associated with biotechnological products.
  • Bio-terrorism and fear of biological warfare etc.

Risks and hazards of Biotechnology