Genetically modified organisms, often shortened as GMOs, are almost certainly part of every modern American’s diet. According to 2018 USDA statistics, 92% of corn and 94% of soybeans planted in the United States are genetically altered. Other common genetically modified foods include potatoes, tomatoes, and canola beans (Starr & McMillan, 2016).
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Despite their ubiquity, 58% of Americans do not know that these food sare genetically modified (Chrispeels, 2014) and 39% believe that GMOs are worse for their health than foods that are not genetically modified (Funk & Kennedy, 2016). Are concerns over this widespread technology justified? Scientific evidence paints a clear picture of the realities of GMOs and how they relate to human health.
The mechanisms of genetic modification are relatively simple to understand with some background knowledge. Bacteria commonly carry circular DNA molecules called plasmids, which carry genes with specific functions and may be obtained from other bacteria or from the environment (Bacterial DNA – the role of plasmids, 2014). Genes may be cut out of the plasmid by humans and replaced with more beneficial one (Rangel, 2015). When this technique is used to modify plants, it means replacing a gene in the plasmid used by bacteria to infect the plant with a gene from another organism. Once the bacteria infects the plant cell, the foreign gene is transferred to the plant and becomes a part of its DNA. The plant cell may then develop into an embryo, and then a fully grown plant (Starr & McMillan, 2016). This is how genetically modified crops are created. The ability to directly add genes to plants creates new opportunities for agricultural scientists.
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