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Genetically modified organism

Opponents of genetic engineering define genetically modified organism or GMO (or genetically modified micro-organism, GMM) as any organism in which the genetic material DNA has been altered (modified) in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination. However, this definition possibly not useful, as all commercial strains of wheat, including organic wheat, have been (randomly and massively) genetically modified by radiation mutagenesis. Interestingly, no one seems to be concerned about this huge genetic modification, first performed in the 1950s.

A common case presented as an example is that of a bell pepper may have DNA from a fish added to it to make it more frost-tolerant; however, geneticists would more accurately describe this as a transgenic plant, genetically modified far less than radiation-mutagenized wheat.

Table of contents
1 Terminology
2 Controversies over genetic modification
3 Evidence for environmental impact
4 See also
5 References
6 External links


Both the terms GE (Genetically Engineered) and GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) are commonly used to refer to all organisms that have added genes from another species which were inserted through the techniques of genetic engineering (this is only one type of genetic modification).

Less frequently heard terms include GMP (refers to a Genetically Modified Plant), GMA (refers to a Genetically Modified Animal).

A term somewhat used is Genetically modified food; it is a food product containing some quantity of any genetically modified organism as an ingredient.

Phrases such as "Genetically Damaged Food", "Genetically Diseased Food Substitutes", or "Frankenfood" are sometimes heard of. These terms have never been applied to radiation-mutagenized wheat, despite the fact that the goal of mutagenesis is to damage the genome.

Controversies over genetic modification

Genetic modification is the subject of controversy in its own right - some believe that the science itself should be forbidden, but such people are rarely trained in genetics.

Proponents of genetic modification argue that it allows great advances in agriculture (for instance, making plants more tolerant of certain diseases or of water shortages, increasing their nutrient value, or decreasing their cost of production), as well as allowing other beneficial creations such as the petroleum-eating bacteria.

Opponents generally argue that the ultimate results of releasing genetically modified organisms are not predictable and may have unexpected and irreversible effects on the environment; however, no adverse effects have been noted in 50 years of using radiation-mutagenized wheat. Since genetically modified organisms, like conventional organisms, are patentable under some laws (such as the U.S. law), GMO crops can theoretically harm agriculture itself, by leaving independent farmers unable to purchase seed each year. (see biopiracy).

These concerns have varying impact, depending on particular national circumstances. Some argue that the patent issue is not necessary valid in developed nations as some hybrid crops seeds (already eligible for patents) are likely to be purchased anyway (e.g. corn).

Proponents typically dismiss published concerns as bad science and alarmism. They state that genetic modification offers enormous benefits in terms of improved agricultural efficiency and the resulting beneficial health effects of better nutrition.

Opponents typically point to the many unstudied issues and warn that mistaken assumptions about biosafety could result in disaster. This controversy is many years from being resolved. (see precautionary principle).

The practice of genetic modification, as a scientific technique (scientists, interestingly, don't use the political term "genetic modification"), is unrestricted in the United States; individual GMO crops (such as soya) are subject to intense study before being brought to market and are common in the United States and estimates of their market saturation vary widely. Many countries in Europe have taken the opposite position: that genetic modification has not been proven safe, and therefore that they will not accept genetically modified food from the United States or any other country. This issue has already gone before the World Trade Organization, which determined that not allowing GMO food into the country created an unnecessary obstacle to international trade. Consequently, genetic modification within agriculture is an issue of some strong debate in the United States, the European Union, and some other countries (see Trade war over genetically modified food for more on the topic).

It is almost certainly true that not all genetic modifications have the same effects on health or on the environment; those policies that classify all genetic modifications as good or bad are thus overgeneralized. However, indefinite postponement of policy decisions may not be in the public interest.

Besides, those arguing for application of the precautionary principle insist one of the risk of using GMO is the one of seeing natural species being contaminated by GMO (for example, natural canola acquiring the new GMO canola genes through cross-pollination). They fear natural non transformed species could be led to disappear (due to the genetic selective advantage of the transformed species), resulting in loss of biodiversity. Yet this has not happened with common wheat, massively and randomly modified genetically by radiation.

The standard agricultural practice of applying certain (but not all) pesticides to crop plants has been alleged (cite the research) to result in short- and long-term harmful effects in humans. There is therefore some question as to whether genetically-modified crops that confer pest resistance might be harmful to humans as well. Current pest-resistant strains use a relatively innocuous organic toxin derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). However, harmfulness is an area of great controversy not only among the general public, but among scientists as well.

Opponents often falsely present research conducted by scientists at Imperial College London and the Universidad Simon Rodrigues in Caracas, Venezuela as revealing that the diamondback moth grew 56% faster when fed cabbage genetically modified to contain Bt than it did when fed cabbage without the Bt. This is not very honest, as the moths were fed on leaf discs treated with Bt, not transgenic plants. Therefore, the research has just as much potential relevance to organic farming, in which Bt is a commonly used pesticide, as it does to transgenic plants. The 56% figure is disingenuously picked because it is the largest number that can be derived from the data; the differences in pupal weight, development time, and pupal weight/developmental time are much, much smaller.

Evidence for environmental impact

There is already some strong evidence that the cultivation of a genetically modified plant may lead to environmental changes. However, whether a genetically modified plant can itself harm the environment is a matter of controversy among scientists.

Increase resistance to insecticides

For example, the overproduction of insecticide in a transgenic population induces a heavier selective pressure on insects, hence leading to further resistance to the insecticide in the insect population and reducing the effect of this pesticide when applied to non-GMO crops. In Australia, the Agriculture department noticed that the parasite of cotton plant, supposed to be killed by the GMO cotton Ingard was proliferating [1].

Increase resistance to herbicides

Another impact is noticed upon the use of GM plants resistant to herbicides, such as Roundup.
71% of genetically engineered crops planted in 1998 are designed to be resistant to herbicides such as glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. Roundup, is the world's most widely used herbicide (112,000 tonnes of glyphosate was used world-wide in 1998).
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics from 1997 show that the use of Roundup Ready soybeans (GM-roundup-resistant) resulted in a 72% increase in the use of glyphosate (see more about this herbicide impact in the Roundup article).

See also


External links