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Written by Laura Li   
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Monday, 19 November 2012

Genetically Modified Organisms

The story starts with a tomato – the Flavr Savr by Calgene.1 This was the first commercial use of genetically modified organisms, aka GMOs, and was released in 1994 without any form of labeling. Since then, GMOs have been an integral part of not just the American, but the global food production industry. In a world with an ever increasing population, any tool or method that can help either mass produce, increase survival rates, or allow all organisms to ripen at the same time, is utilized to its full potential. However, not every genetically modified food is the same. They are modified in different ways, even though they are so easily grouped together under the generalized group “GMO.” Let’s explore the varieties of these controversial organisms.

There are many issues that can be brought up about GMOs, whether it’s labeling or health effects, but how do we as the public know how to deal with this science if we don’t understand it? For more of a debate discussion on whether or not GMOs are good or bad, read this article . Here we will focus strictly on the scientific facts. Let’s begin with the most popular form of genetic modification – insect and weed resistance. These are probably the most well-known and the GMOs that people think of when thinking of genetically modified foods. The most famous would have to be Monsanto2 soy and corn seeds. Monsanto produces 90% of the global transgenic crops.3 They own the patent for these seeds that are tolerant of herbicides, namely Roundup, which they also own.4 Herbicides kill by terminating a certain enzyme inside the plant, so in order to become tolerant, the plants are modified to protect said enzyme. There are three main ways that one can achieve this resistance:5
  1. Producing an enzyme that detoxifies the targeted enzyme;
  2. Producing another decoy enzyme that is not affected by the herbicide; or
  3. Producing barriers and protection from the uptaking of the herbicide.
To return to our prime example, Monsanto’s soybean is resistant to the herbicide Roundup, which is extremely effective at eliminating weeds and other parasitic plants, as well as insects. However, recent studies have shown that these modifications have caused the evolution of “super weeds and insects,”7 raising the question of what GMOs do to our future.


Root worms exposed to Monsato's bioengineered natural
pesticide Bt have become immune to it and are now being
called super worms.6
Although we do not know the answer to what will happen in the future, we do know the presence of GMOs in the present. Genetically modified foods are everywhere. For every problem comes an answer that chemists are eager to discover. Tomatoes, the first foods to be modified, are now modified to have a longer shelf life and to not freeze during cold periods8. Strawberries and many other fruits are modified to grow yearlong instead of just their regular seasonal periods.9Some tobacco is modified to decrease the amount of nicotine present. Peas take some genes from kidney beans to act as a pesticide during growth. Sugar canes and beets are modified to the same effect as the corn and soybeans of Monsanto.10 Most of these modifications are to enhance the taste, durability, or convenience of growth of these foods. However, there are also GMOs that are created as fusion foods. For example, there are grapples, mini watermelons, and other human creations that are now common items bought in grocery stores.

Along with a range of reasons and forms of genetic modification, there are also many techniques with which these modifications are carried out. The most popular technique is through Bacterial Carriers and Viral Carriers. Essentially, bacteria and viruses are used as carriers of the DNA fragment that contains the desired trait.11 This DNA then invades the host’s DNA and splices in the new pieces. DNA splicing is defined as the cutting and pasting of one organism’s DNA into another’s DNA.12 Using bacteria and viruses to carry the DNA fragments may cause unexpected complications because this method relies on the DNA itself to randomly attach itself and replicate. Let it be known that virus carriers and bacteria carriers act differently. Bacteria carriers are usually grown in a culture and then induce a tumor growth in the infected plant while the virus itself is a piece of DNA.

13


Although not as popular as using Bacteria and Viruses as vehicles, there are many other ways to modify food. Another technique used is Calcium Phosphate Precipitation, in which calcium phosphate is used to promote the formation of small granules that the targeted cells consume, allowing the granule to release the DNA, delivering it to the host’s nuclei and chromosomes.14 Biolistics is also a method of genetically modifying foods. It is used in genetic modification, usually in plants, by shooting new genes into the host:“Microscopic particles of gold or titanium are coated in the DNA sections which are to be introduced to the host.”15 These are fired into plant cells and the rest depends on these particles entering the cell’s nuclei. Gene Silencing is a technique that doesn’t add a gene, but it rather removes one. The first step is to identify the trait that one wishes to “silence.” Then another copy of the gene is attached but in an opposite direction, therefore essentially cancelling out the trait.16

As one can see, GMOs are much more complicated than just food that is “modified” or changed. Engineers and chemists work very hard to create these techniques as well as to identify what traits are desirable in an organism. This is a prime example of how humans and nature have become intertwined. We have come to a point where the natural way of growing food is no longer satisfy our needs. There are specific characteristics we look for in crops, whether it is to increase consumer satisfaction or to increase productivity. However, as with anything new, there are always questions about whether or not it may be harmful to human health, the health of the livestock being fed this food, and the health of the environment. Even though these are questions that may not be answered for years to come, there is one thing we know – there are too many different kinds of modifications to just see GMOs as a single group of entities. Without full understanding of how these things were modified, one cannot assess the effect of the crop on humans, animals, or the environment. Knowledge comes first, and then come the answers. The story started with a step toward a longer lasting and tastier tomato and this lead to a movement with more and more methods of creating these “Franken fruit.” How will the story end?

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1 http://www.disabled-world.com/fitness/gm-foods.php
2 http://www.monsanto.com/products/Pages/vegetable-seeds.aspx
3 http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2011-01/life-cycle-genetically-modified-seed
4 http://www.monsanto.com/products/Pages/agricultural-herbicides.aspx
5 http://www.nyu.edu/classes/jaeger/genetically_modified_foods.htm
6 http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/09/05/796781/genetically-modified-corn-gives-rise-to-
    superworms-as-agribusiness-lobbies-against-gmo-labeling/

7 http://www.occupymonsanto360.org/Occupy,Monsanto,GMO,Genetic,Engineering,Modified,
     Organism,Food,Sustainable,Local,Locavore,Organic,RoundUp/herbicide-resistance/

8 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/7128622/Scientists-create-GM-tomatoes-which-stay-fresh-
     for-a-month-longer-than-usual.html

9 http://www.disabled-world.com/fitness/gm-foods.php
10 http://www.healthy-eating-politics.com/genetically-modified-crops.html
11 http://www.thedoctorwithin.com/gmo/genetically-modified-foods-alert/
12 http://www.biotechnologyonline.gov.au/popups/int_splicing.html
13 http://www.precisionnutrition.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/
    gene_splicing-ashz-090310.gif

14 http://www.geneticallymodifiedfoods.co.uk/types-techniques-used-genetically-modify-food.html
15 http://www.ruralsource.ac.nz/TempFiles/TempDocuments/
    Resources/GeneticallyModifiedFoodFA3.pdf

16 http://www.geneticallymodifiedfoods.co.uk/types-techniques-used-genetically-modify-food.html



Comments (2)
RSS comments
1. 31-08-2014 17:29
GMO's Haven't been proven to be danger
Let's look at this logically. Monsanto, seed producers, and farmers all rely on one thing. That is people buying their products. Now if a company produces a GMO that isn't safe, that product will kill the people who consume it, and therefore, there will not be anyone left to buy the product. So it is in the financial best interests of growers to make sure their GMO's aren't any danger. Now with that said, there have been no studies that have conclusively proven that GMO's are unsafe, or dangerous. 
And as a matter of fact, "There is broad scientic consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union’s scientic and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008)"  
Source - http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2011/08/11/genetically-engineered-crops/
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2. 16-07-2013 08:46
gmos are not proven to be safe
Take a look at this video and you know what is behind the gmos; It is all about bottom line of gmo companies not consumer or farmer; all good for big business ; thank you but no http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omtYlsG1P5U this video called Monsanto A Documentary on GMO a must watch will prove that all is not well with gmos obviously this people do not know about this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Njd0RugGjAg gmo global alert
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