GMOs – A look at the current science

GMOs

What are GMOs really and what difference is there from regular crops?

We have selected grains for different traits since the dawn of man itself. Be it the bigger the maize the better or those stalks don’t seem affected by bugs as often. In the modern world the great leaps in biotechnology has allowed us to change the genes directly in a laboratory settings to get the traits we wish. This progress has led to the modern GMO (genetically modified organism). Since fear mongering is rampant on facebook feeds and in forums lets take a look at GMOs via a review article in Journal of Medical Toxicology

What are GMOs ?

The GMOs  used today are mostly grains such as maize, soybean, cotton canola sugar beets and alfalfa. The traits modified in these crops vary from an increased resistance to herbicides, insect resistance, viral resistance and some nutritional enhancements. The reason for this is to get larger yields of the crops at better nutritional values. I think its fair to say that capitalism is what has fueled its development.

GMO production is done by introducing a new gene, usually from a bacteria, that have a certain trait to be integrated into the plant’s DNA.

An example of this is insect resistance. With this change the plant produces an insecticidal protein on its surface. This kills the insects that try to eat the plant. The gene for the protein is found in a certain bacteria used for over 50 years in both organic and regular farming (Bacillus thuringiensis).

Another common change is to make plants more resilient to the use of herbicides. Herbicides kills of the weeds hampering the growth of the crops. This is accomplished by inserting a gene from bacteria that mediates resistance to the herbicide Glyphosates. Glyphosates works by stopping the first step of the production of amino acids that is necessary for plant growth. So what are GMOs? A way to get larger yields of crops by changing certain genes in them.

End of part 1

Cover image credit: Raman Sharma via flickr.com, license