The ABC's of creating Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Some biology basics
Plants and animals are made up of millions of cells. Each cell has a nucleus, and inside every nucleus are strings of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA contains complete information regarding the function and structure of organisms ranging from plants and animals to bacterium.
A gene represents the blueprint of an animal or plant. Genes determine an organism's growth, size, and other characteristics. Genes are made up of sequences of DNA. Genes are the units by which species transfer inheritable characteristics from one generation to the next.
Genetic engineering is the process of artificially tampering with these blueprints. Through genetic engineering, scientists insert the gene of one organism into another in an effort to replicate characteristics in the receiving organism.
So, for example, genetic engineers have added genes from the flounder to tomatoes in an attempt to give tomatoes a longer shelf life. Genetic engineers also plan to use the technology to improve nutrition and even come up with medical benefits. But some biotechnology companies are also using genetic engineering to produce crops that can withstand increased amounts of pesticides, often pesticides sold by those very same companies.
Genetic engineering: A fancy version of crossbreeding?
Farmers have used crossbreeding--interbreeding between two varieties of the same or similar species--to improve crops and animals for thousands of years.
Genetic engineering, though, offers a radical new twist on this theme. In crossbreeding, farmers don't stray far between species. Broccoli can be crossbred with cauliflower, for example, but not an eggplant. And certainly, no one would ever try to crossbreed a tomato with a fish. Through genetic engineering, these natural barriers have been blown away--with, some scientists say, unpredictable results.
Big promises, but can they deliver?
Biotech corporations make bold claims about the ability of genetically engineered foods to change the world--promises ranging from feeding the world's hungry to saving the environment Click below to look at some of the promises made by the industry, some facts that put these promises in dispute, and how industry's actions sometimes undercut their assurances.
If you want to avoid eating genetically engineered foods, all we can say is good luck. In just a few short years, GE foods have swept into the marketplace, affecting almost all of the foods we eat. In fact, the only way you can be sure to avoid eating genetically mutated foods is to buy organic, or to grow your own.
GMO Opponents are concerned about the effects of GMOs in following areas. For more detailed information, click on each heading.
Allergic reactions and other possible health risks
Genetic engineering is such a new technology that no one's sure what the health consequences might be, and it may take years to find out. Of course, in one of the other great food revolutions of the 20th century, scientists didn't realize the health consequences of heavy agricultural pesticide usage until years after pesticides were introduced.
Threats to the environment
In 1999, Cornell scientists discovered that genetically engineered corn might be deadly to the monarch butterfly. That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to environmental concerns. When biotech corporations boast that genetic engineering can do wonders for the environment, consider the source. After all, some of these companies are the same ones that have invented such deadly pesticides such as DDT and Agent Orange. These pesticides, it was promised, would help the environment; instead, they turned into environmental disasters.
Organic foods at risk
One of the best (and only) ways to avoid genetically engineered foods in the United States is to eat organically grown food. Organic foods are regarded by many people as more nutritious and delicious than their non-organic counterparts. Unfortunately, GE foods are creating a number of problems for organic growers.
Courtesy of The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods.