Photo courtesy of Tyler Allen via Flickr. Double helix courtesy of Marie Lin. Modified by Curiousmatic.

GMO Foods: How Scientists Can Cut And Paste Gene Traits

Photo courtesy of Tyler Allen via Flickr. Double helix courtesy of Marie Lin. Modified by Curiousmatic.

GMO foods are ubiquitous, but controversial. Here’s why.

At the core of every organism’s cell are the double helix-shaped DNA molecules, containing the recipe of how to create that particular organism.

Scientific advancement in the last half century has allowed us to identify what trait each of those molecules produces, enabling us to cut molecules out of one chain and place it in a different organism’s.

Organisms altered this way are called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. As it’s just a matter of manipulating molecules, any organism can be altered this way – but the most prevalent, and controversial, is the genetic modification of food crops.

On the rise

Over 170 million hectares of crops worldwide are GMO, according to International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). That’s more than 50% of the total landmass of the U.S.

The organization also states on its website that 81% of soybean production, 81% of cotton, 35% of corn and 30% of canola productions are genetically modified.

Since commercial GMO crops were introduced in 1996, the total amount of hectares have increased 100-fold, with an annual growth rate of ~6%. In 2012, for the first time, more than 50% of GMO crops were located in developing countries.

Controversy

Usage of GMO crops has been controversial since its introduction. Pro-GMO groups such as ISAA says the method increases productivity, is better for the environment, saves biodiversity by using less land, and alleviates poverty.

Many activist groups, on the other hand – such as Earth Open Source – say GMO crops can be toxic, allergenic, less nutritious, don’t increase yield, create herbicide tolerant superweeds, and reduced biodiversity because all crops have the same DNA.

However, major organizations such as the American Association for Advancing Science, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization have conducted studies that say they present no greater risk to humans than regular crops (adding that there is a small potential for “adverse events” involving toxicity or spread of GMO crops to non-GMO fields).

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Ole Skaar