Definition of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)

What Are Genetically Modified Organisms?


Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are organisms whose genetic makeup has been changed through the process of genetic engineering, which is why they are alternately called genetically engineered organisms or GEOs. By taking DNA from varying sources and combining them into one molecule to create new genes, a process called recombinant DNA technology, scientists are able to modify how the organism behaves, how it grows, its color or shape and size, how it resists pests and disease, its nutritional value, and so on. While nature naturally modified organisms over thousands of years through natural selection and adaptation, GMOs undergo relatively “rapid” changes as a result of human tinkering.

The uses of GMOs are expansive, from biological and medical research and therapy to pharmaceutical production to agricultural uses.

Scientists interested in genetically modifying various organisms usually come at the issue with good intentions but this new form of genetic manipulation has yet to be tested for its long-term effects on humans and surrounding ecosystems. For instance, in agricultural processes, a molecule might be modified in order to bring about one of these positive changes:

  • Increases in crop yield to produce more food per acre
  • Naturally pest-resistant plants to encourage organic agriculture methods
  • Weather-resistant crops that can withstand extremes in temperature or rainfall
  • Boost the nutrient qualities of a staple crop for subsistence farmers to improve a community’s health
  • Change the depth of color of a healthy food to make it more appealing to the consumer
  • Improve product shelf life

There are many controversies that surround genetically modifying organisms:

  • Superbugs: As seeds are modified to resist pests, the pests adapt to overcome the resistant qualities of the crops. Over time, there is concern that superbugs will emerge against which we will have no defense. This could result in massive destabilization of food crops around the world.
  • Health concerns: Very little research has been done to test the impact GMOs will have on human and environmental health. As a result, there is some concern that health problems could emerge in the future – new allergens, antibiotic resistance, unknown toxins, etc.
  • Ownership: Certain seed companies, Monsanto being the most notorious, have protected their GMO seeds with patents. A farmer using Monsanto’s product one year may find that their seeds have migrated into their neighbor’s field. If Monsanto’s seeds are then detected in the neighboring field, that farmer can (and has been) charged with theft! This has bankrupted many farmers and poses significant moral challenges.
  • Cost: Though many GMOs are developed to help impoverished nations, it is precisely these communities that cannot afford the designer seeds.
  • Terminators: These are the types of GMOs that produce the first generation crop but then will not generate seeds to produce a second generation. This is a major concern as companies such as Monsanto force poor farmers to invest over and over again in new seeds.

Different countries have reacted in various ways to the issue of GMOs in the food supply. Some countries like Canada and the United States have embraced many genetically modified foods and crops, while others, such as certain European nations, have banned some crops (though not all).

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Articles


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