July 19, 2018, 12:07 am
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GMO, anyone? (1)

A GMO is anything...an organism... that has had its DNA altered or modified in some way through genetic engineering.

In most cases, Genetically Modified Organisms have been altered with DNA from another, be it a bacterium, plant, virus or animal; these organisms are referred to also as transgenic. 

The gene from silk-producing spider is inserted into the DNA of a common goat. That may sound far-fetched, but that exact process was used. Silk proteins were found in the goat’s milk. The silk protein in the milk was isolated in manners best known to geneticists, creating a lightweight, ultra-strong silk with a wide range of industrial and medical uses.

Question: Are the subsequent kids of this goat also silk protein-carriers? And if so, what happens if the progeny’s milk is consumed by human infants? What happens to the silk protein in the baby’s stomach?

Genetically modified food: The range of GMOs now existing can boggle the mind. Geneticists have bred GMO pigs that glow in the dark by inserting into their DNA a gene for bioluminescence from a light-emitting jellyfish. Tomatoes have been developed that resist frost and freezing temperatures. Antifreeze genes from a cold-water fish, the winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) has been inserted into the tomato. The Food and Drug Administration also recently approved potatoes that don’t bruise and apples that won’t brown. Those items have been genetically engineered to reducing levels of their enzymes that can cause browning or bruising. 

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) reassures the public about genetically engineered foods with foreign genes (genes from other plants or animals) inserted into their genetic codes. The potential benefits are foods that are tastier, identical and perfect in appearance, more nutritious, and resistant to diseases and droughts. 

The NLM likewise lists some potential risks, including that the genetic alterations can cause harm, and that modified organisms could be inbred with natural organisms, leading to the possible extinction of the original organism.

By far the biggest exposure to the public of GMO technology has been in large-scale agricultural crops: At least 90 percent of the soy, cotton, canola, corn and sugar beets sold in the United States have been genetically engineered. The adoption of herbicide-resistant corn, which had been slow in previous years, has accelerated, reaching 89 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2014 and in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

One widely used method of incorporating insect resistance into plants is through the gene for toxin production found in the bacterium Bacillusthuringiensis (Bt), according to the World Health Organization. GMO crops that are modified with the Bt gene have a proven resistance to insect pests, thus reducing the need for wide-scale spraying of synthetic pesticides.

There are clearly two very different viewpoints when it comes to the health and safety of genetically engineered food: industry leaders and scientists who support GMOs; and those who believe GMOs are harmful. 

Vocal anti-GMO activists referring to GMO crops as “Frankensfoods” argue that GMOs can cause environmental damage and health problems for consumers. One such anti-GMO organization is the Center for Food Safety, which calls the genetic engineering of plants and animals potentially “one of the greatest and most intractable environmental challenges of the 21st century.” Kim Zimmermann of Live Science contributed to the above information.


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