Genetic engineering. The words are frightening enough without their relentlessly malicious portrayal in popular science fiction, from Aldous Huxley's novel "Brave New World" to the film "Gattaca." Similar to the fears that these stories invoke, the use of genetic modification in agriculture grows, and its consumers have become increasingly wary. The manipulation of DNA is not a grim vision of a dangerous future, but rather, a key component of human progress.

Genetically modified (GM) foods are not a single, simple product, but are immensely complex. There are many ways to modify the genetics of agriculture, with many different objectives.

GM foods have been an integral part of human agriculture for thousands of years. Humans have selectively bred crops since the first farms were tilled. The modern genetic technology to introduce novel DNA is simply the next step.

Genetic engineering isn't always about growing bigger crops. Many foods are engineered to provide vitamins, proteins or other nutrients that many impoverished people have little access to otherwise. The genetic modification of foods is so diverse and complex that few people should have the hubris to claim to be against it all together.

Yet, many claim that the introduction of GM food is dangerous to humans, and the consumption of the foreign proteins artificially introduced could lead to harmful or allergic reactions.

However, scientists work to ensure this is not the case; the foreign genes that are introduced are rigorously tested for safe human consumption. In fact, many "natural" unmodified crops may be even more dangerous.

Furthermore, scientists are researching ways to decrease the naturally harmful components of food by genetic modification, such as creating a strain of peanuts without the proteins that induce fatal anaphylactic shock.

Some critics of GM foods claim artificial plants harm the environment. Yet, many GM crops have much higher yields and can grow in harsher climates, thus requiring less farmland to support a population. This translates into less

deforestation, more efficient farming, and, often, less pesticides. A world supported entirely by natural plant species would almost certainly require mass deforestation.

Finally, GM foods have faced trying political setbacks. GM crops typically have patents, which makes it difficult for developing nations to utilize the technology and reap the benefits. However, this does not detract from the scientific safety and efficacy shown in this agricultural technology.

GM foods are still part of human technological progress towards better living, and generosity with such crucial advances should be shared globally. But this is a political, not a scientific, problem.

GM foods are the future of agriculture, and their potential for reducing hunger around the globe cannot be denied. Instead of rejecting the entirety of genetically modified foods, we should work to promote research and development of such new forms of agriculture, to ensure that human farming is safe for both the consumers and the environment.

Folmsbee is a senior from Topeka in neurobiology.