What are Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)?

A GMO is any living things that has had its
genome manipulated by humans, usually by
inserting a gene from another species
GMOs are very important for the food and
medicine industries.
Biotechnology is the science of genetic
Also known as genetically engineered,
recombinant or transgenic organisms.
In 2008, 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries
were growing GMO crops on 1.25 million
square kilometers
Humans have been manipulating the
genomes of organisms for thousands of years
Humans have been using the process of
selective breeding to choose the best plants
and animals, and to gradually change the
genomes of those species
Only the strongest, tastiest and most
desirable individuals are allowed to breed and
their genes are passed on to their offspring
These organisms not considered to be GMOs
Wolves to Dogs:
Teosinte to Corn:
Brassica oleracea or wild cabbage has been
bred into cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower,
brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and kale
The insertion of foreign genes into organisms
◦ Plasmids are used as a vector to transfer foreign
◦ A restriction enzyme is used to excise a specific
gene which will anneal to a plasmid cut with the
same enzyme
◦ Bacteriophages are also commonly used to transfer
Some plants can be genetically modified by
infecting them with a bacterium called
Agrobacterium tunefaciens
◦ The desired gene is inserted into the “Ti” plasmid in
the bacterium
◦ When a plant is infected it incorporates some the
plasmid DNA into its chromosome, so any of the
plants offspring will carry those genes
An alternative method is the “Gene gun”
◦ DNA attached to small gold or tungsten particles is
fired at a piece of plant tissue
◦ the use of a micropipette to insert DNA into a cell
◦ Uses needles 0.5-5μm in diameter
◦ The foreign gene is inserted into the pronucleus of
a fertilized egg cell
The genes of animals can also be modified
using viruses because viruses naturally insert
their DNA into animal cells
Bacteria can be made to produce important
human proteins by inserting the human genes
that code for these proteins into the bacterial
◦ Human insulin is now produced by E. coli bacteria for
diabetics. In the past insulin from pigs or cattle was used
and was much less effective
◦ Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is also produced by
recombinant bacteria. HGH was previously obtained from
◦ Others: Blood clotting Factors and Vaccines
Human proteins can also be produced in the
body fluids of transgenic animals then refined
Flavr Savr Tomatoes
◦ The first transgenic plants licensed to be eaten by
Golden Rice
◦ Rice modified to contain β-carotene
◦ Aimed to combat vitamin A deficiency (VAD)
◦ VAD results in 2.5 million deaths of children under
5 and 250-500 thousand children going blind every
year among other health problems
Insect and disease resistant crops
◦ Soybeans, corn, canola, wheat, etc.
◦ Zebrafish with a fluorescence
gene taken from jellyfish are
available as pets
Malaria-resistant mosquitoes
◦ When introduced to the wild they would reproduce
and spread the gene through the gene pool,
decreasing the number of mosquitoes carrying
Environmental concerns
Human safety concerns:
◦ GMOs can mate with wild plants and create hybrids
◦ GMOs and hybrids have a selective advantage and will
outcompete wild plants
◦ GMOs have unpredictable effects on other organisms
(may be poisonous)
◦ Loss of biodiversity
◦ Transgenic food may cause allergic reactions
 People allergic to seafood may be allergic to plants with
genes from fish
◦ No labeling regulations
Social concerns
◦ Market dominance in the food industry by a few
Medicines from GMOs are cheaper and of better
quality than previous sources, saving lives
Plant GMOs with increased yield and
insect/disease resistance provide more food with
less land and reduce the need for poisonous
pesticides and fertilizers
Food can be modified for increased nutrition
Ecological concerns of escaped GMOs becoming
weeds apply equally to other domesticated plants
as well as the effects of monocultures of soil
GMO foods are tested for potential dangers
before they are licensed for human consumption
Genetic engineering is an exciting field of
science and new discoveries are made every
There may be some dangers but all human
inventions have an element of risk
GMOs have a huge potential to improve and
save human lives
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Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 3 Dec. 2011.
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Slide 4: http://visual.merriam-webster.com/animal-kingdom/carnivorous-mammals/dogbreeds_1.php, http://www.learner.org/courses/essential/life/images/show5.maize_teosinte.jpg
Slide 5: http://www.tainongseeds.com/Kohlrabi.html,
Slide 6: http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/VL/GG/plasmid.php
Slide 7:
Slide 8: http://images.tutorvista.com/content/biotechnology/micro-injection-process.jpeg,
Slide 10: http://www.goldenrice.org/
Slide 11: http://www.glofish.com/photos.asp

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