Homefarming guideGenetically Modified Food: The Claim and the Controversy!

Genetically Modified Food: The Claim and the Controversy!

Genetically Modified Food

1.     Advancement in plant biotechnology has made it possible to distinguish and alter the genes of organisms. Bioscientists study specific characteristics of genes of various organisms. Scientists then transfer genes from one organism to an unrelated organism as per the requirement. Thus producing a genetically modified organism’ or transgenic animal/plant. Any food produced this way is known as genetically modified food. i.e. food obtained by adding or deleting gene sequence.

2.    Genetically Modified(GM) foods are defined as foods produced from plants, animals, and microbes that have had their genes modified by the selective introduction of specific DNA segments. Genetically engineered (GE) foods have had their DNA changed using genes from other plants or animals.

 Scientists take the gene for the desired trait in one plant or animal and insert them into a gene into a cell of another plant or animal. This process allows the organism to gather desirable traits. It induces traits like pest protection, herbicide resistance, or high nutritional value.

3.     Why Produce Genetically Modified Food?

        (a) From an economic and agricultural point of view, it’s beneficial for crops to have a higher yield, better quality, pest and disease resistance. The crops should also be tolerant to heat, cold, and drought. Conventionally, combining the desirable genes in one plant is a difficult task that will take much longer time than much attention. 

        It involves crossing one plant to a special plant of the same species or related species and hoping only desired traits will have transferred to the other plant and not the undesired ones.

        (b)   Genetic engineering provides a solution to the above problem by transferring only desirable genes and traits onto other plants. Transgenic technology permits beneficial genes from numerous living sources to be transported together in a reasonably simple manner. These desirable genes will provide ways for plants to fight difficult conditions and produce a better yield.

4.     Features which describe GM foods:

A Food is often called a GM food if it has any of the features: –

(a)   Food containing another gene sequence

(b)   Food having a deleted gene sequence.

(c)    Animal products from animals fed GM Feed.

(d)   Products made by GM organisms.

5. Function of Genetic Engineering.   

  The enhancement of desired traits has conventionally been undertaken through breeding. These conventional plant breeding methods are often very time-consuming and are often not very accurate. To overcome these problems, bioscientists do genetic engineering on plants, animals, and other small organisms. 

It allows scientists to move desired genes from one plant or animal into another. Genes can also be moved from an animal to a plant or the reverse way. Genetic engineering allows scientists to select one specific gene to implant. This avoids introducing other genes with undesirable traits. Genetic engineering also helps in speeding the process of creating new foods with desired traits.

 6.    Types of GM Foods. 

There are mainly three kinds of GM Foods as mentioned below: –

(a)   First Generation Crops. They have superior input traits, like herbicide tolerance, better insect resistance, and better tolerance to environmental stress. The succeeding crops aren’t substantially different from the conventionally grown crops in terms of appearance, flavor, and nutrition.

(b)   Second Generation Crops. They have new traits induced in them to increase their benefits. New traits may increase their protein levels, increase healthier fats, modified carbohydrates, an increase in taste, or an increase in their nutrients.

(c)    Third Generation Crops. These GM foods are still in the research process. These plants may have traits that can offer an increase in the ability to resist abiotic stress like drought, increase in temperature, or saline soils. Further traits may also provide health benefits. Other objectives could even be to form “pharmaceutical plants” to help produce pharmaceutical products.

7. GM Food Techniques.

There are 3 main techniques for developing GM Food: –

(a)   Inserting genes (Gene Shifting): Genes are determined by different DNA sequences. When an isolated gene is inserted into a plant, it becomes a part of the plant’s gene and works with its function. This process can improve plant traits, like resistance to insects or pests. This in turn increases the yield of crops subsequently.

(b)   Removing genes (Gene Silencing):      This process works by removing or stopping a gene through genetic modification. For example, the gene which causes dryness and spots on tomato is stopped by removing parts of the gene. Thus the virus cannot be reproduced and tomatoes can grow healthily.

(c)    Changing the tactic of Catabolism (Gene splicing): Food’s qualities are often improved by altering the tactic of catabolism. Like regulating the share of starch of glutinous rice. It also includes controlling the taste, mass color, and usefulness of food.

8. GM Food Process.

GM Food goes through the following steps: –

(a)   Isolation of the gene(s) of interest–      Available data about the structure, purpose, or position on chromosomes is used to recognize the gene(s) that is responsible for the desired qualities in an organism, for example, drought tolerance or insect resistance.

(b)   Insertion of the gene(s) into a transfer vector–       The most frequently used gene transfer means for plants is a circular molecule of DNA (plasmid) from the naturally arising soil bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The gene(s) of interest is injected into the plasmid using recombinant DNA (rDNA) procedures. The gene controlling required trait is transferred to the selected plants.

(c)    Plant transformation– The reformed cells holding the plasmid with the fresh gene are mixed with plant cells or cut pieces of plants such as leaves or stems (explants). Some of the cells take up a portion of the plasmid known as the T-DNA. The tumefacient injects the selected genes into the plant’s chromosomes to form GM cells. The other frequently used a process to transfer DNA is particle bombardment. In this process, tiny particles covered with DNA molecules are bombarded into the cell. The plasmid enclosed inside cells pass on the plasmids and new gene into the plant’s chromosomes.

(d)   Selection of the modified plant cells– After transformation, merely a tiny portion of the plant cells take up the gene of interest. Selectable marker genes are used to favor the expansion of the cells containing the trait as opposed to the non-transformed cells. 

More often, selectable marker genes that provide antibiotic or herbicide resistance are utilized to support the progression of the transformed cells. In this process, genes liable for resistance are injected into the vector and passed along with the gene(s) providing required traits to the plant cells. 

When the cells are exposed to the antibiotic or herbicide, only the transformed cells containing and expressing the selectable marker gene will survive

(e)    Regeneration into whole plants via tissue culture-. The transformed cells are then regenerated into whole plants using tissue culture methods. Scientists take explants (plants/cells) onto media containing nutrients that spark the development of cells. This form plantlet is then placed in pots controlled in environmental conditions.

(f)    Verification of transformation and characterization of the inserted DNA fragment– Verification of plant transformation includes validating that the gene has been inserted and is inherited normally. Tests are carried out to ascertain the number of copies inserted, whether the copies are intact and whether the insertion does not hinder other genes to cause unintentional effects. Testing of gene expression is done to make sure that the gene is functional.

(g)   Testing plant performance– Scientists observe or carry out necessary tests to check for desired traits in the resulted plant. It is also checked for any unwanted characteristics.

(h)   Safety assessment–  More tests are done to evaluate the plant’s performance. Environmental safety valuations and other Safety assessments are also done for these plants.

9. Health and Safety Concerns of GM Foods

WHO has recognized harms relating to human health with genetically modified foods. These are some of the concerns related to GM food.

(a)   Allergenicity:

(i)    GM foods have the likelihood to cause allergies in humans. The proteins formed by any newly introduced genes have the ability to cause an added allergic reaction. Though this risk is identical to the risks linked with conventionally grown foods.

(ii)   To avert such allergenicity, the transmission of genes from generally allergenic foods is discouraged. Such transfer is only approved out when it’s proven that the protein produced by the introduced gene won’t be allergenic

(iii) Another possible risk is the introduction of a new protein that previously did not exist within the natural phenomenon.

(b)   Gene Transfer:

(i)    A possible concern arising from GM foods is the transmission of genetic material from GM foods to the cells of the human body or the bacteria inside the intestinal tract.

(ii)   DNA from consumed food isn’t entirely degraded by digestion. Minute remains of DNA from GM foods are found in several parts of the alimentary tract.

(iii)  This could result in horizontal gene transfer by absorption of DNA fragments by gut cells lining the intestinal cells.

(iv) Scientists have suggested that acceptance of GM food DNA into the cells of the alimentary tract won’t have any biological concerns. As this DNA is getting to be degraded within the cells.

(c)    Increase in Anti-nutrients:

(i)    Anti-nutrients are ingredients that obstruct with the utilization of nutrients.

(ii)   The insertion of an additional gene may cause an increase in the existing levels of anti-nutrients.

(d)   Use of Viral DNA in Plants

(i)    Most GM crops utilize the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus 35S promoter (CaMV35S) to switch on the introduced gene

(ii)   There’s concern about CaMV35S horizontally transferring and causing diseases via carcinogenesis, mutagenesis, the revival of inactive viruses, or creation of the new viruses.

(iii) Few scientists consider that CaMV found in foods isn’t infectious and cannot be absorbed by humans or animals.

(iv) Few scientists also believe that humans are ingesting CaMV and its 35S promoter in large quantity and it has never triggered any disease or re-joined with other viruses.

(e)    Other Concerns.      A few people have stated concerns about GE foods, such as:

(i)    It can cause an allergic or toxic reaction

(ii)   It can cause unpredicted or detrimental genetic changes

(iii)  There is a possibility of accidental transfer of genes from one GM plant or animal to other plants or animals.

(iv) Foods that are less nutritious

8. Pros/Advantages of genetically modified foods?   

 GM foods are mainly developed to produce a crop that is more resistant to weather conditions, able to tackle pests and diseases itself, and lastly more nutritious for human consumption. The main advantages of GM foods are as mentioned below.

(a)   Improved yield and better resistance to diseases.

(b)   Lower chances of getting damaged by insects.

(c)    Better tolerance to herbicides.

(d)   Higher nutritional value.

(e)    Higher climatic survival rate because of an increase in tolerance to drought, flood or frosty conditions.

(f)    Reduced farm costs

(g)   Increased farm profit.

(k)   Tastier food.

(l)    Disease- and drought-resistant

(m) Less use of pesticides

(n)   Increase in food supply with reduced cost and longer shelf life.

(o)   Faster growing plants and animals

(p)   Food with more desirable traits.

(q)   Medicinal foods that might be used as vaccines or other medicines

10.Criticism of GM Organism/Foods

(a)   Environmental hazards.

               (i)Unintended harm to Eco-system.  GM Crops may cause some unintended harm to other organisms. It’s difficult to make toxins that only kill crop damaging pests and cause no harm to other insects.

               (ii)   Reduced effectiveness of pesticides. Over a while pest likely        develop resistance to the pesticides.

          (iii)  Gene transfer to non-target species. There is a concern about transferring of genes to other species including humans

               (iv)  Superweeds.Transfer of herbicide resistance from crops to weeds. The “superweeds” will then have herbicide tolerance also

        (b)   Human health risks.

               (i)    Allergenicity:    Introducing new gene may create more allergies.

               (ii)   Unknown effects on human health

        (c)    Economic concerns.

               (i)    Lengthy and costly process

               (ii)   Crops can be patented by food companies to earn revenue.

               (iii)  A few rich food companies can make large profit by exporting it to developing countries.

               (iv)  Farmers from developing countriesmay not able to afford GM product.

        (d)   Suicide seeds

               (i)    Suicide gene technology in GM crops

(ii)   Just one growing per season

               (iii) It would produce only sterile seeds that do not germinate.

11. The Future for Genetically Modified (GM) Foods

(a)   GM Scientists are assured that succeeding generation of GM foods will show even better prospects. It will also resolve many of the existing concerns.

(b)   Scientists are adding genes to bananas thatnot only provide resistance to Panama disease. It alsoincreases the quantity of beta-carotene and other nutrients, including iron.

(c)    Other GM crops within the pipeline include plants engineered to resist drought, high salinity, nitrogen depletion, and extreme temperatures and weather conditions.

        (d)   In the existing techniques researchers introduce genes into plant cells, which end in random insertions into the genome. New techniques are devised can allow genes to be inserted into precise locations within the genome, evading a range of the possibleunfamiliar effects of unsettling a plant’s regular genome with random integrations.

12. What is future potential Genetically Modified crops?

Some potential applications of GM crop technology are:

        (a)   Nutritional enhancement: Higher vitamin content; more healthful fatty acid profiles;

(b)   Stress tolerance: Tolerance to high and low temperatures, salinity, and drought;

        (c)    Disease resistance: For example, orange trees resistant to citrus greening disease or American chestnut trees resistant to fungal blight.

(d)        Biofuels: Plants with altered cell wall composition for more efficient conversion to ethanol.

(e)         Phytoremediation: Plants that extract and concentrate contaminants like heavy metals from polluted sites.


13.   The concerns GM crops encountring, from human well-being and environment, to our economy and community, are intricate and not fully understood in impact. GMOs are not completely faultless, and there is a need to be bit cautious when dealing with them and their connected businesses. 

14.   Nonetheless GM crops have great potential. It promises solutions to our food problems by making crops more resilient, fruitful, and nutritious. GMOs have been shown to not have significant adverse effects on our health or the environment, while also having positive impacts on sustainability. We cannot let its possible drawbacks (or the malpractices of Monsanto) deter us from what might be the key to our society’s future development. We ought to give it a chance to be agriculture’s next great advancement, by not placing oppressive bans on GM foods, nor forcing misleading labels upon them. Genetically modified foods is still a young endeavor, which may very well blossom into the solutions for a better world.




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