Pros and Cons of GMO Use

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Statement of Issue:

Genetically modified (GM) foods are a hot topic of debate and have been for over two decades. Currently, there are hundreds of millions of people in third world countries suffering from malnourishment. This is due to the fact that our world’s population is growing far too fast and more food is required in order to sustain it [1].

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There are various benefits and potential risks associated with the use of genetically modified organisms, and at times the research is not in clear support of one side over the other. One benefit of GM foods is that they can increase crop yields, resulting in higher food production and potential profits for farmers [2]. However, some experts believe that these claims may be either unsubstantiated or overexaggerated and the use of GM foods alone will not solve world hunger; there are more complicated issues involved [3].

Scientific Introduction and Background:

The US FDA defines genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as “animals or plants created through genetic engineering”, or direct and specific manipulation of the organism’s genome [4]. Traditional crop breeding involves the exchange of genes between two plants to create a new plant that has desired traits from one or both of the parent plants. To make this happen, male pollen is transferred to the female flower organs. This type of breeding is limited in that it can typically only be done between similar or related species. To get desired results, it can take a very long time, and even then the desired genes may not exist in compatible breeders. GM technology is novel because it allows for the artificial transfer of desired genes from one plant to another, regardless of breeding capabilities via biotechnology [2].

There are four key steps involved in the creation of a GMO; identifying what gene is of interest, isolating that gene, inserting DNA of that gene into a new organism, and the finally keeping that organism alive and reproducing. In order to identify a gene of interest, the key is often referring back to nature to see what plants are already capable of surviving in the environment the new organism is slated to survive in. for example, in the case of Roundup Ready plants, a gene was isolated from bacteria able to survive adjacent to a herbicide factory and was subsequently implanted into crops, conferring the resistance seen in the original bacteria [4].

In order to isolate the gene, or find the specific DNA sequence of interest, comparative analysis is used to compare genomes of the plant with the desired trait to the plant without the trait in order to find the portion unique to the plant with the trait. This gene is inserted into new plants in one of two ways.

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