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Genetically Modified Foods

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Before getting into the topic of genetically modified foods, let’s break down the word. The first word genetics is the main type of modification that takes place in genetic modification at the molecular level. To get a clear understanding what genetically modified foods are, we must first understand a little about genetics.

Genetics is a branch of biology that deals with heredity (Genetics). Genetics deals with inherited characteristics that are determined by our chromosomes (Arora et al., 2003). Chromosomes are small, thread like structures. They are found in the nucleus of all plant and animal cells, they are made up of DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) and proteins (Arora et al., 2003). The DNA of a chromosome us basically a set of instructions full of genetic information. The DNA in plants tells the plant how to produce and consume food and water, such as lipids, fats, and sugars (Marshall, 1999). DNA is made up of two stands of nucleotides (Arora et al., 2003). These stands are twisted together in a double helix and contain four nucleotides. These four nucleotides are, Thymine (T) , Adenine (A) , Guanine (G) , and Cytosine (C) (Arora et al., 2003). Nucleotides are read in threes and each set of nucleotides contains instructions that code for amino acids. These amino acids are used to build proteins (Arora et al., 2003). Proteins determine all sorts of things like appearance, health, and more (Marshall, 1999). This is the process that genes go through when genetic modification occurs. Of course this process is much more complex then explained above, but it gives you a rough idea of what’s involved. Now back to genetically modified foods…..

What are Genetically Modified Foods? Genetically modified foods or GMO’s are plants and or organisms that are developed using biology techniques. These products are consumed by humans as well as animals (Whitman, 2000). By using new biotechnology, scientists are able to rearrange genes or splice genes in an organism, food in this case (2003,What is a GMO?). By doing this scientists are able to make the organism more resistant to herbicides, insecticides, and can even improve an organism’s nutritional content (Marshall, 1999). Some of the advances of genetically modified foods are pesticide resistant crops, herbicide tolerance, cold tolerance, disease resistance, drought tolerance, and much more. Both foods and animals can be genetically modified. Some examples of foods that have been modified are tomatoes, cantaloupe, soybeans, and corn. Animals that have been modified include pig, sheep, and also fish (Marshall, 1999).

History timeline of Genetically Modified Foods (Marshall, 1999)

1968 → scientists discovered restriction enzymes. They were proteins that cut and spliced DNA and also aided in attacking bacteriophages

1970- 1980’s → genetic modification/ engineering first appeared

1972 → researchers at Standford University realized that restriction enzymes can join DNA fragments together coming from two different organisms

1973 → two other researchers from Standford University used these restriction enzymes to cut out a toads genes and insert them into a bacteria. The transition was successful

1975 → gene splicing became easier with the discovery of DNA

1982 → scientists successfully transferred a rat gene into a mouse. This market the start of genetic modification

There are three categories that deal with the concerns of GMO’s; human health risks, environmental hazards, and economic concerns (Whitman, 2000).

Human Health Risks
• when foods are genetically modified, many genes are rearranged, removed, and added
• this rearranging causes health risks for people who have food allergies
• altering genes in plants could create a new allergen
• allergies is the only type of health risk that scientists know the most about
• scientists are unaware of unexpected negative side effects
• scientists believe genetic modification is safe, not including the allergic reactions risk (Marshall, 1999)

Environmental Hazards
• main environmental risk is the kill of nature’s animals that are beneficial
• when altering a plants genes you are altering the food that that plant produces within it (Whitman, 2000)
• many organisms require plants as foods
• genetically modifying plants produces toxins and other animal’s intake and then dye from
• animals that are at risk are butterflies and bees (Marshall, 1999)

Economic Concerns
• producing genetically modified foods is both timely and expensive
• the cost to purchase seeds for growing crops is expensive
• farmers living in third world countries are unable to buy seeds to produce food
• this is widening the gap between the rich and the poor
• the only way to make a good profit of GMO foods is if people actually buy them, that is a worry for food producers (Whitman, 2000)
There are many other issues with producing genetically modified foods such as labeling products produced. People should have the right to know what they are eating, for health reasons and personal interest. The only downfall to labeling is that it will increase the price even more. (Whitman, 2000). In the long run, genetically modified foods have the ability to solve a majority of the worlds hunger problems. Before this can happen scientists along with the government need to safeguard certain aspects (Marshall, 1999).