What are Genetically Modified Foods?

The term GM food or GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) is commonly used to refer to crop plants modified for human or animal consumption using cutting edge molecular biology techniques. Plants have been modified in the laboratory to enhance wanted traits like increased resistance to herbicides or better nutritional content. Breeding has traditionally carried out the enhancement of desired traits, but usual plant breeding methods can be very time consuming and are not very accurate. Genetic engineering, on the other hand, is able to produce plants with an exact desired trait very quickly and with great accuracy. For example, plant geneticists have the capability to isolate a gene responsible for drought tolerance and insert that gene into a different plant. This new genetically-modified plant will gain drought tolerance as well. With genetic engineering, not only can genes be transferred from one plant to another, but genes from other organisms also can be transferred. An example of this is the use of Bacillus thuringiensis genes in corn and other crops. The Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring bacterium that is able to produce crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae. The B.t. crystal protein genes have been able to be transferred into corn, enabling the corn to produce its own pesticides against some insects such as the European corn borer.

Genetically Modified Animals

Genetically engineered animals are a powerful method of introducing wanted traits into animals by recombinant DNA technology by adding, changing or removing certain DNA sequences to change the characteristics of the animal. The process of genetically engineering animals is a slow and tiring process that requires a large amount of funding. Thanks to advanced technologies being introduced, genetically modifying animals is becoming simpler and more precise. This is not only transforming science, but could also transform the food we eat.

The first transgenic (genetically modified animal), was made by injecting DNA into eggs then, implanting the eggs in animals and then waiting months to obeserve if any offspring had incorporated the extra DNA. At first only about 10% performed correctly, in the end causing this a long and costly.

Genetically modified animals currently being developed can be placed into six different broad groups based on the purpose of the genetic modification: (1) to increase production or food quality traits (e.g faster growing fish, pigs that expel less toxins); (2) to improve animal health (disease resistance); (3) to produce products for human theraputic use (e.g pharmacutical products or tissue implantations); (4) to enrich or increase the animals’ interactions with humans (e.g hypo-allergenic pets); (5) to develop animal models for human diseases (e.g pigs used as models for cardiovascular disease); (6) and to make industrial or consumer products (e.g fibres for multiple uses).