What are GMOs? Genetically Modified Organisms in Food

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Corn is one crop that is often genetically modified. Photo by: Khairuzzaman

What’s really on your plate? There has been a lot of talk about GMOs recently; Californians had the opportunity to vote yes or no for proposition 37, that would have required a label for all products made with genetically modified foods, but what exactly are GMO foods?

What are GMOs?

According to the World Health Organization, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are defined as, “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.”

This technology allows for selected individual genes to be transferred to different organisms; genes which do not even have to be of the same species.

This process is used to produce crops that are genetically modified. In many cases, we eat these fruits, vegetables, and products without knowing what other genes have gone into them, or how those genes are affecting our own bodies, if at all.

GMO: Moving Genes From One Organism to Another?

You may be wondering how scientists can genetically modify DNA from other species of plants and animals. Organisms have natural protection against DNA from other species, so genetic engineers must force the DNA to combine through one of four ways, according to the Institute for Responsible Technology.

The first way to combine unrelated DNA is to use viruses and bacteria to infect plant and animal cells with the new DNA. The second way to insert foreign DNA is to cover the DNA with metal pellets and then shoot it into the plant or animals’ cells. The third method is to inject the new DNA into fertilized eggs. In the fourth method of combining unrelated DNA, genetic engineers use electrical shocks to make holes in an animal’s sperm membrane and then inject the DNA into the sperm before fertilization.

This is how plants and animals become genetically modified – through viruses or force – and FDA doesn’t require any labels on these genetically-engineered products.

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