- Synonyms: Transgenic organisms
- Nickname: Frankenfoods (used by anti-GMO activists)
- Similar Terms: Living modified organisms
- Definition: Organisms with genetic material altered using genetic engineering
- Use: Food, scientific research, production of goods
- Crops: Sugar beets, soy, canola, cotton, corn
- Results: Crops modified to survive herbicides, produce pesticides and resist certain diseases
- Statistics: 70-80% of the foods consumed in the US are genetically modified
- Food Labeling: 87% of consumers want GMOs labeled
- Consumer Opinion: 53% of consumers would not buy genetically modified food
- Definition: Genetic Modification Includes Mutation, Insertion or Deletion of Genes
- History: Processes Attempting Genetic Modification Have Been Known for Centuries
- History: The First Actual Genetic Modifications Happened in the 1970s
- Use: Apart from Use in Food, Genetically Modified Organisms Are Used in Many Other Forms
- Statistics: The United States Grow the Majority of the World’s Genetically Modified Crops
- Benefits: GMOs Can Have a Number of Benefits
- Safety: There Are Strict Regulations Regarding the Use of GMOs
- Debate: There Are Still Many Controversies Regarding the Use of GMOs
- Food: You Probably Eat Genetically Modified Food Every Day
- Food: Genetically Modified Food Currently Does Not Have to Be Labeled in the US
- More than 40 Different Types of Plants Can Be Genetically Modified
- Bacteria Were among the First Genetically Modified Organisms
- Genetically Modified Viruses Are Used in Human Gene Therapy
- Transgenic Plants Helped Create Stunningly Beautiful Blue Roses
- Genetically Modified Crops Are Spreading Rapidly across the World
- Holy Cow, Even Mammals Have Been Genetically Modified
- Genetically Modified Mammals Are Used to Help Find Cures for a Number of Illnesses
- Genetic Modification Is Also Used in the Production of Human Therapeutics
- Genetically Modified Fish Are Even Kept as Pets!
- Genetic Modification of Invertebrates Is Bringing Important Scientific Advancements
Genetic Modification Includes Mutation, Insertion or Deletion of Genes
GMO facts reveal that genetic modification can involve three basic processes: mutation, insertion or deletion of genes. The insertion of genes, as the most invasive method, is usually done by inserting genes from a different species or through horizontal gene-transfer. These processes occur also naturally when exogenous DNA penetrates the cell membrane of the target organism due to various reasons, but achieving the same effect artificially requires special techniques such as attaching the new genes to a virus, physically inserting the new DNA into the nucleus of the target cell, using electroporation (electric pules which introduce the DNA of one organism into another), using a gene gun or using modified natural forms of gene transfer (for example agrobacterium, which transfers genetic material to plants, or lentiviruses, which transfer genes to animal cells).
Processes Attempting Genetic Modification Have Been Known for Centuries
One of the most surprising GMO facts reveals that genetic modification is not a new thing; processes aiming at various forms of genetic modification have been known to the human race for centuries and in some cases even millennia. For example, the human race has been domesticating plants and animals ever since 12,000 BC, using two processes that are clearly targeted at genetic modification: artificial selection (in contrast to natural selection) and selective breeding. The latter means selecting animals or plants with desired traits (consequently also with desired genes, although ancient peoples of course weren’t aware of this) to breed the next generation, thus eliminating traits that are not desirable. The same logic is the basis of the modern concept of genetic modification.
The First Actual Genetic Modifications Happened in the 1970s
The road from the first simple attempts at genetic modification, such as the above-mentioned artificial selection and selective breeding, to actual genetic modification, was a very long one and lasted for thousands of years. The first recombinant molecules were produced by Paul Berg in 1972 and the first real genetic engineering that employed direct manipulation of genes using biotechnology was accomplished by Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen a year later. And how do these modern forms of genetic modification differ from ancient selective breeding? Selective breeding still depends on naturally occurring genetic variation within a chosen population of a species, whereas genetic engineering can involve the intentional application of genes to target organisms from another species.
Apart from Use in Food, Genetically Modified Organisms Are Used in Many Other Forms
Most of us know that Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are nowadays used in food, but GMO facts reveal that they are also used in various other fields, including biological and medical research, pharmaceutical drugs, medicinal therapy and agriculture. The purpose of creating genetically modified organisms is always the same – to improve the existing organism for its own benefit or for the benefit of those who can utilize this improved organism in some way. Through the use of GMOs, the crops we plant can become more resilient, the foods we eat can become tastier and the diseases we carry can become more easily treatable.
The United States Grow the Majority of the World’s Genetically Modified Crops
GMO facts show that the United States produce the majority of the world’s genetically modified crops – around 2/3 of worldwide production. Genetically modified corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, squash and papaya are the most popular with US farmers, but many other genetically modified crops are also grown, including potatoes.
After the USA, other major producers of genetically modified crops are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China and South Africa. But most of the international production of genetically modified crops is controlled by only a handful of companies, among which one US based company, named Monsanto, controls more than 90% of all genetically modified crop production in the whole world…
GMOs Can Have a Number of Benefits
The negative effects of using GMOs have been in the spotlight in recent years, but GMO facts clearly show that genetically modified organisms can also carry several benefits. In the fields of crop and food production, for example, using genetically modified organisms means more crops, higher nutritional yield, less farming land being needed, cheaper crops, reduced use of pesticides, more food for starving populations of the world, higher nutritional value of food and added health benefits of food. The latter is especially alluring, since it enables us to cure certain disease. For example, UK scientists have developed a genetically modified strain of golden rice, which could help reduce vitamin A deficiency and childhood blindness in developing world countries.
There Are Strict Regulations Regarding the Use of GMOs
Although extremely beneficial in many cases, the use of GMOs also carries several important risks, so it is heavily regulated in most countries of the world, but regulations on genetic engineering vary greatly across different continents. The differences are especially big when talking about regulations in the US and in Europe. But despite that, regulation is much stricter practically everywhere in the world when talking about GMOs intended for food use. The European Union even went as far as differentiating approval processes for GMO cultivation inside the EU and GMO cultivation intended for import and processing.
There Are Still Many Controversies Regarding the Use of GMOs
GMO facts reveal that the use of genetically modified organisms is still highly controversial, despite various clear benefits it brings in certain areas. The debate on GMOs includes buyers (users), biotechnology companies, governments, NGOs and scientists from various fields, all of whom often have different views on whether genetically modified goods should be labeled, what role governments should play in GMO usage, the effects of GMOs on health and our planet, and the ways in which GMOs could influence world population.
Currently, there is a general scientific agreement that food produced from GMOs is no riskier than regular food, and there is no distinction between GMO foods and non-GMO foods recognized by the FDA. However, there are still various US and international organizations, such as Greenpeace, the Organic Consumers Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists and many others, which believe that there are various important questions regarding long-term impacts still left unanswered, so various additional restrictions regarding the use of GMOs should be considered.
You Probably Eat Genetically Modified Food Every Day
The simple truth is that most of us have been consuming genetically modified ingredients for years, but don’t even know it. These may have been consumed in the form of modified enzymes in cheeses, sodas, breads and beers, US-produced dairy products, eggs, meat and corn, or many other ingredients we use daily. The fact that around 88% of US corn is genetically engineered speaks for itself…
But, recently, there has been a trend of some companies reducing or completely quitting their use of GMOs, such as, for example, the fast-food chain Chipotle.
Genetically Modified Food Currently Does Not Have to Be Labeled in the US
GMO facts reveal that genetically modified food currently does not have to be labeled as such in the US as the FDA doesn’t recognize any difference between GMO food and non-GMO food in this area. Both the FDA and the USDA believe that there is no need for additional labeling since all genetically modified products have been approved for safety, but the public – the majority of whom wants them labeled – is growing in power and increasing their pressure on regulators to make some changes. Even US President Barrack Obama himself has stated that genetically modified food should be labeled and that he will push for it to happen, but he has yet to act on his promise…
More than 40 Different Types of Plants Can Be Genetically Modified
For those who are wondering which foods exactly can contain genetically modified organisms, let’s take a look at the list of plants that we have modified genetically. So far, there have been over 40 plants genetically modified worldwide, but a much smaller number of them are grown commercially and are widely available. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the most common plants involved in genetic engineering are corn, canola, soybean, cotton, papaya, rice, tobacco, walnuts and berries, but the last five are not grown for consumption in the US.
Bacteria Were among the First Genetically Modified Organisms
GMO facts reveal that bacteria were one of the first genetically modified organisms in the world, simply due to their simple genetics. For the same reason, they are still widely used nowadays in genetic engineering research and experiments. One of the most important fields of this kind of research is of course medicine, and scientists can now produce insulin for treating diabetes from bacteria as well as clotting factors and human growth hormone. But medicine is by no means the only field where genetically modified bacteria come in handy; we can produce biofuels with the help of bacteria, as well as processed foods and many other things that make our everyday lives easier.
Genetically Modified Viruses Are Used in Human Gene Therapy
Bacteria are not the only potentially dangerous organisms we use in genetic engineering nowadays – viruses are also very popular and with a good reason: they are used in medicine for the relatively new kind of treatment known as the gene therapy. And how exactly does gene therapy work? Genetically modified viruses are used to deliver genes that can cure a certain type of disease to the human body. We are still far from uncovering all its secrets, but in time, gene therapy could help cure diseases that are currently incurable, such as cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, diabetes, muscular dystrophy and various other, less well known conditions.
Transgenic Plants Helped Create Stunningly Beautiful Blue Roses
GMO facts also reveal that genetic engineering can help us create beauty which is rarely found in nature. Achieving amazing colors in various plants is one example of such a use of genetic engineering, which has given us – believe it or not – a blue rose. This was a joint project between an Australian company called Florigene and a Japanese company called Suntory. In 2004, they together created the blue rose by using three separate genetic alterations – they added the genes for the blue plant pigment delphinidin, repressed natural color production by blocking a crucial protein for color production, and added a modified protein which would allow the blue pigment to still work. Blue roses are widely available nowadays in Japan, the United States and Canada.
Genetically Modified Crops Are Spreading Rapidly across the World
Use of genetic engineering in agriculture is rapidly expanding. GM or biotech crops (crops which had their DNA modified by genetic engineering) are being cultivated in various parts of the world to bring a number of benefits to our normal crop production. These benefits include increased resistance to pests, diseases and unfavorable environmental conditions, a consequent reduction in crop spoilage, and a better nutritional profile or higher nutritional value of foods that are made from such crops. In is no wonder, therefore, that genetic engineering technology has spread so rapidly during the last two decades. From 1996 to 2013, the area of land cultivated with GM crops increased hundredfold, from 4.2 million acres to approximately 432 million acres, and nowadays more than 10% of croplands are planted with GM crops.
Holy Cow, Even Mammals Have Been Genetically Modified
Including cows, mice, rats, rabbits, sheep, pigs and many others… Two scientists responsible for that are Ralph L. Brinster and Richard Palmiter who developed techniques for genetic engineering in animals in the 1980s. Genetic modifications in animals can serve two main purposes. They can benefit the genetically modified animals themselves by improving their resistance to disease and other aspects of their health. But, more often, these modifications are used to benefit humans through improving the animals’ interaction with humans, to improve food that is made out of their meat, to produce industrial and consumer products, or to research and improve upon the treatment of human diseases.
If you want to learn more about genetically modified animals, here is a list of a few well-known ones: Herman the Bull, Dolly the Sheep and Enviropigs.
Genetically Modified Mammals Are Used to Help Find Cures for a Number of Illnesses
Genetically modified mammals are nowadays used in research which aims to find cures for quite a few potentially very dangerous human illnesses. Out of hundreds of such cases, fluorescent pigs and fluorescent cats must be some of the weirdest. And how exactly can fluorescent animals help with human diseases? Fluorescent pigs have been bred with the purpose of interspecies transplantations (known as xenotransplantations) or, in other words – to serve as potential organ donors for humans with organ problems. Green-fluorescent cats have been used by Japanese scientists to find effective therapies for AIDS, since feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is related to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Genetic Modification Is Also Used in the Production of Human Therapeutics
One of the best examples in human therapeutics is anticoagulant ATryn, the first FDA approved human biological drug that was produced from genetically modified animals (in the case of ATryn from goat milk). When it comes to producing good quality traits for human use, there are numerous examples: pigs engineered to produce omega-3 fatty acids, cows engineered to produce milk that could serve as a “natural” supplement to regular human breast milk or formula, or pigs engineered to excrete less environment-hurting manure…
Genetically Modified Fish Are Even Kept as Pets!
One of the most unusual GMO facts reveals that genetically modified animals are nowadays used even as pets, and not only for scientific purposes. One such example is genetically modified fish, known under the brand name GloFish. These special pets are genetically engineered fluorescent zebra fish in bright red, green and orange colors, and they became the first genetically modified animals to be publicly available as pets in 2003.
But there have been many health concerns for the animals involved and many people are concerned about the morality of the practice. It should come as no surprise to learn that GLoFish were banned in many places, including California, shortly after the introduction of glowing fish to the US market.
Genetic Modification of Invertebrates Is Bringing Important Scientific Advancements
Not only mammals, but also invertebrates have been used in research which uses genetic engineering. Fruit flies, for example, are used for studying the effects of genetic changes on development, mosquitoes are used to combat the spread of malaria and dengue fever, bollworms have been genetically modified to make it easier to control their population and cnidarians are used in studies of immunity and certain developmental processes. All very beneficial stuff no doubt, but who would have thought that mosquitoes are useful for anything else other than being annoying, huh?
GMO Facts — Facts about Genetically Modified Organisms Summary
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms of various kinds, shapes and sizes which have been genetically altered through the use of genetic engineering to serve a certain purpose. Bacteria, viruses, plants and animals can all be genetically engineered nowadays to offer various benefits – either benefits that serve them or us, humans. GMOs are thus used in various fields, including industry, medicine and food production. But not everyone agrees about using genetic engineering for such purposes – either due to potential risks to health and the environment or due to moral issues.