Genetic engineering permits scientists to select only one definite gene to implant. This avoids introducing other genes with unwanted attributes. Genetic engineering also speeds up the development of new foods with wanted traits.

Genetic Engineering is a Driving Force for Modern Agriculture
Genetic Engineering is a Driving Force for Modern Agriculture

Len Calderone for | AgritechTomorrow

Why should we consider generic engineering of our food? Well, it produces more nutritious and tastier food. It produces disease and drought resistant plants that require less water and fertilizer and fewer pesticides. It increases the food supply at lower costs with a longer shelf life. Produce purchased at the grocery store has a very short shelf life when brought home, resulting in more fresh produce being thrown out. 

Genetically engineered foods have their DNA altered using genes from other plants. Scientists take the gene for a preferred trait in one plant, and they introduce that gene into a cell of a different plant. Genetic engineering can be performed with plants, animals, and bacteria. Genes can likewise be transferred from an animal to a plant or vice versa. This procedure is called Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs.

Genetic engineering permits scientists to select only one definite gene to implant. This avoids introducing other genes with unwanted attributes. Genetic engineering also speeds up the development of new foods with wanted traits.

Some people have voiced fears about genetically engineered foods, such as creating foods that have unforeseen or detrimental changes that can cause an allergic reaction or that are toxic. They believe that foods that are less nutritious would be the outcome. 

None of the genetic engineered foods grown today have triggered any of these problems. The FDA evaluates all generically engineered foods to make sure that they do not cause any harm before permitting them to be sold. In addition to the FDA, the EPA and the USDA control bioengineered plants. They assess the safety of genetically engineered foods for humans and animals.

Genetic engineering lets scientists investigate and study the function of specific genes. Drugs, vaccines and other products have been designed from organisms engineered to manufacture them, while crops have been improved that help in food security by strengthening nutritional value and tolerance to environmental stresses. Genetic engineering could in theory manage serious genetic disorders in humans by replacing the malfunctioning gene with a working one by allowing the function of specific genes to be studied. 

Producing a GMO takes multiple steps. First, genetic engineers must select what gene they wish to insert into the organism. This is decided by what the goal is for the subsequent organism and is decided by prior research. 

Screening can determine potential genes along with further tests that are used to identify the best contenders. The progress using microarrays, transcriptomics and genome sequencing has made it simpler to find appropriate genes. Sometimes luck plays a part.


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The next step is to segregate the selected gene. The cell comprising the gene is opened and the DNA is purified. The gene is parted by using restriction enzymes to slice the DNA into fragments. These fragments can then be removed through gel electrophoresis. After the gene is isolated, it is tied into a plasmid that is then inserted into a bacterium. The plasmid is reproduced when the bacteria divide, guaranteeing unlimited copies of the gene.

Before the gene is introduced into the target plant it must be joined with other genetic elements. These consist of a promoter and terminator, which start and end copying. A selectable marker gene is added, so that researchers can conclude which cells have been effectively transformed. These operations are carried out using recombinant DNA procedures.

The use of genetic engineering is resulting in many advantages for agriculture, including the most noticeable benefit—producing more crops in a shorter period of time. Because of the alterations that make crops resilient to diseases, it’s possible to proliferate yields. 

Genetic engineering is increasing yield by making it possible to grow crops in areas that would normally be unfitting for agriculture. These are areas that have salty soil, or are drought prone and areas with limited sunlight. Because of genetic engineering, crops have been adapted to endure salty soils, be more drought resistant and increase the amount of photosynthesis in areas where sunlight is limited. 

Besides improving productivity, genetic engineering has several additional benefits for agriculture, such as resistance to diseases and insects; whereby, fewer chemical pesticides have to be used to combat diseases and pests. By lowering the amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, there will be less damage done to the environment. 

The most common GMO foods found in grocery stores are:

Up to 90% of soybeans on the market have been genetically modified to be naturally resistant to an herbicide called, Round Up, which is linked to cancer. Half of the US farms growing corn to sell to Monsanto are growing GMO corn. Canola oil comes from rapeseed oil. It is one of the most altered oils sold in the US. Even cotton is genetically modified to improve yield and resistance to disease. Genetically modified sugar beets were launched in the US market in 2009. Like corn, these sugar beets are altered to resist Roundup.

(Photo: Flickr)

Aspartame is a widely used artificial sweetener used in many food and drink products. Aspartame is produced from genetically modified bacteria. Genetically modified zucchini along with yellow squash has a toxic protein that makes them more resistant to insects. 

Genetically modified papaya trees have been grown in Hawaii since 1999, and are sold in the United States and Canada for human consumption. 

Papaya from Hawaii (Photo by Janine from Mililani, Hawaii)

They have been altered to be naturally resistant to the Papaya Ringspot virus. They are also modified to delay the maturity of the fruit, giving suppliers more time to ship the fruit to supermarkets. Recently, apples that don't brown along with bruise-free potatoes were approved by the FDA.

For years, the debate over the safety of genetically engineered crops has come down to one fact. That is the science isn’t there. According to a report published by the National Academy of Sciences, there is no difference in probable or adverse health effects in GMO crops as compared to non-GMOs. GMO crops are just as safe to eat as their non-GMO counterparts.

In 2016, 185 million hectares of land were planted with biotech crops, and a huge portion consisted of soybean, maize, cotton and canola. Over 99 percent, contained crops resistant to herbicides, insects, or both. Disease-resistant banana, wheat and potatoes are all coming, along with drought-tolerant sugarcane and maize. Looking into the future, ambitious projects are proceeding, which may not produce benefits for decades. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding projects that are working to create cereal crops that can fix their own nitrogen.

Genetically engineered crops are definitely here and more are coming in the future. To prevent food waste and feed the ever-growing world population, genetically engineered food is a necessity.

* Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

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The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow

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