Misunderstood science: what in the world is a GMO?


Google search “GMO” and you might find images of massive tomatoes or syringes inserted into apples appearing in the search results. Understandably, consumers are concerned about genetic modification. Anti-GMO marketing by companies such as Chipotle and advertising campaigns that demonize genetic modification only perpetuate fear and consumer mistrust. The process is safe, effective, and is feeding the exponentially growing global population.

With the recent news about a non-browning GMO apple, there has been a lot of talk about genetically modified organisms recently, but what exactly is the process? Genetically modified organisms or GMO’s are used to increase crop yield and improve the nutrient value. We do not eat any meat products in the United States that have been genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms are not used to create unusually large vegetables or abnormally large cows. This is often the result of selective breeding, which is not controversial. There has been extensive research into GMO’s and they are the future technologies that will feed the word.

In the United States there are currently only eight genetically modified crops and food: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, papaya, and squash.

Genetically modified organisms are created through four steps. First a trait of interest is identified. The trait of interest usually solves an agricultural need. For example, Golden Rice was produced through genetic engineering to enhance rice to include vitamin A. The rice was then grown in areas of the world where a shortage of vitamin A caused a deficiency which resulted in nearly 670,000 deaths each year. The agricultural need was vitamin A and the trait of interest was the vitamin A producing rice. To identify the trait, scientists observe nature to find crops that already accomplish this need or goal.


Step two is to isolate the genetic trait of interest. The genome, or complete list of genes, of the plant with the desired trait is compared to the genome of the plant that needs the desired trait. If they don’t have a database to compare, scientists will remove traits one-by-one until the desired trait no longer appears. This tells them by process of elimination which gene exhibits the trait.

In step three the desired gene is inserted into the new plant. Many biotech companies use natural bacteria that carriers the gene in their DNA and alters the plant by inserting it into its genome. In the final step companies ensure the plant will grow with its new gene and optimize the methods used to grow this new strain.

For more information about GMO’s check out gmoanswers.com.


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