Cultures on the DNA map: important, but did we overstep the mark?

For many years, human history has been dominated by the scourge of infectious disease, with deaths from TB being the most common and serious illness caused by infectious pathogens. Whereas diseases like malaria and HIV/Aids have made headlines recently, researchers are also now focusing on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their impact on the environment.

In 2005, South Africa’s nascent scientific community reported several successes in the field of gene engineering, led by research on the regulation of transgenic crops. Scientific research has since accelerated, peaking in 2015 with the analysis of 10,000 studies published in the preceding 10 years, providing a treasure trove of potentially promising new technologies.

Biological engineering is rapidly transforming agriculture, and will help in addressing global food and nutritional security

Although risk assessments for developing technologies are now required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), such assessments by the UN International Labour Organisation (ILO) on occupational health and safety present significant gaps. As the role of these groundbreaking, innovative technologies in accelerating economic growth and reducing poverty is increasingly recognised in international policy discussions, it is vital that biological engineering research in South Africa remains accessible and transparent for the benefit of society.

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