Understanding GMOs

I am currently in the process of researching GMOs as part of my Science 10 course. I chose GMOs because it is something that I recently learned about, and it intrigued me quite a bit. The reason I was drawn to it the most is because of the controversy around GMOs, and a lot of the misinformation/disinformation that comes with the topic. I find that most websites are very biased about them, either saying that they are devastating the environment or advancing sustainable agriculture. I wanted to research more about GMOs myself so that I could form my own opinion about them, and maybe help others do the same. 

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is defined as an organism whose genome has been modified in the laboratory in order to favour the expression of desired physiological traits or the generation of desired biological products. [1] Many misunderstandings occur when understanding what a GMO is, but the US Drug and Food Administration (FDA) states that an organism is only considered a GMO if a scientist has directly manipulated a gene. [2]  They are modified for a variety of reasons, not limited to but including herbicide resistance, increasing crop yield, enduring extreme weather conditions, and edible vaccines. [1] Some of the most common GMOs are corn, cotton, soybeans, canola, potatoes, tomatoes, and alfalfa. [2]

There are five major steps to creating a GMO, beginning with gene isolation. [2] This can be done using a few different methods, but scientists most commonly use comparative analysis, a method in which they compare an organism with the trait to another organism, of the same species, without this trait. [2] The gene that is only present in the first organism is assumed to be the gene that gives the organism its desired trait. [2] The second step is to insert the gene using a gene transfer tool, with the most common one being a plasmid from the soil bacteria Agrobacterium tumefacien. [3] Next, the scientist will regenerate the modified gene into a different organism. [3] The organism is then tested to make sure that the gene has been properly inserted and is functional. [3] The GMO is then sorted into one of three categories: crops that benefit the farmer, crops that benefit the processor/consumer, and crops that produce pharmaceutical products. [3]

GMOs have been banned in a number of countries, including France and Germany. [4] Some countries have also not yet granted a patent for GMOs, as they have implemented laws stating that patents will not be granted to inventions that contradict morality. [4] GMOs fall into this category as it has not yet been decided if GMOs affect the environment negatively with things such as superweeds, as well as GMO’s impact on people’s well-being and health. [4] Despite the grey area surrounding GMOs, there is a promising future in gene editing. [4] This method is called CRISPR, and it has many advantages over other forms of gene editing, as it is able to insert, delete, and replace genes. [4] CRISPR is also accessible, simple, and has a relatively low cost, and scientists are hopeful to see what this new technology can bring. [4]

1. https://www.britannica.com/science/genetically-modified-organism/GMOs-in-medicine-and-research

2. https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/how-to-make-a-gmo/

3. http://nepad-abne.net/biotechnology/process-of-developing-genetically-modified-gm-crops/

4. Jiang, L. (2020). Commercialization of the gene-edited crop and morality: challenges from the liberal patent law and the strict GMO law in the EU. New Genetics & Society, 39(2), 191–218. https://doi.org/10.1080/14636778.2019.1686968

One Reply to “Understanding GMOs”

  1. Hello ,
    Your inquiry project looks quite fascinating. I have always wondered what things like non-GMO really meant when they were put on packages and this helped me understand it a bit better. I to do not know how i really feel about genetically modifying our food , and even our genes, though I do hope to form an opinion and educate myself more. I look forward to reading your future blog posts , good luck with your research!

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