In this short guide, we have outlined:
- what a GMO is
- genetically altered vs transgenic organisms
- what GMO foods and crops are (crops or plants that have certain genes turned off or moved, or have external genes added from another organism to add a desired trait to that crop or plant, such as pest or drought resistance)
- and some common types of GMOs
What Are GMOs?
- A genetically modified organism, or GMO, is an organism that has had its DNA altered or modified in some way through genetic engineering.
- In most cases, GMOs have been altered with DNA from another organism, be it a bacterium, plant, virus or animal; these organisms are sometimes specifically referred to as “transgenic” organisms (because their genetic makeup has been altered by the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism).
- A GMO is a genetically modified organism.
- At its most basic, genetic modification is the process by which changes occur in an organism’s genome.
- Changes to an organism’s genome can occur naturally (from the sun’s radiation for example), or as a result of human induced change (which is what we are generally talking about when we say GMO).
- The first way humans modify an organism’s genes is through selective breeding for specific characteristics. We’ve seen this for hundreds of years with wolves and dogs, and with plants.
- The second way, which is a newer biotechnology technique, is through genetic engineering. Scientists use biotechnology to insert one or more genes from one organism into another to give the second organism the specific trait controlled by the transferred gene or genes
Genetically Altered vs Transgenic Organism
A small way to further classify GMOs is by distinguishing between:
- Genetically Altered Organism – typically organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered without the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism. e.g. turning off or moving a certain genetic trait
- Transgenic Organism – an organism whose genetic makeup has been altered by the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism. e.g. adding a desirable genetic trait to one organism from another organism
What Are GMO Foods & Crops
- When people refer to genetically modified organisms – GMOs – they are referring to crops developed through genetic engineering, a more precise method of [both selective and advanced] plant breeding.
- Genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology, allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait found in nature and transfer it from one plant or organism to the plant they want to improve, as well as make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing. i.e. they can turn off or move an existing genetic trait, or insert a new desirable trait
- For example, certain crops and foods like tomatoes, soybeans, corn and so on, can have desirable genes added for drought, pest, or disease resistance.
There is a good infographic which shows selective breeding and genetic engineering at https://gmoanswers.com/gmo-basics
Some Different Types Of GMOs
Some of the types of organisms that have been genetically modified are:
- Crops (food, and fibres/seeds like cotton)
- Research Use
- Human therapeutics and xenotransplants
- Food quality traits
- Human gene therapy
- Conservation Use
- Fruit Flies