Genetically Modified Foods
Gm Beyond The Laboratory
After genetic modification, the valuable trait must be bred into an agricultural variety. Consider "golden rice," a grain that was given genes from daffodils and a bacterium to confer on it the ability to manufacture beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. The first golden rice plants were created solely to show that the manipulation worked, and the modification of an entire biochemical pathway took a decade. The plant varieties were not edible, and the production of beta-carotene was low. In early 2002, however, researchers at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines began using conventional breeding to transfer the ability to produce beta-carotene from the inedible golden rice into edible varieties.
Genetic manipulation of plants can also focus on a particular species' own genes. This is the case for the potato, which has traditionally been difficult to cultivate because edible varieties must have an acceptable taste and texture, yet lack the alkaloid toxins that many natural strains produce. Breeding for so many characteristics is very time-consuming, and this is where genetic manipulation might speed the process. Researchers have identified a group of disease resistance genes on a region of one potato chromosome. The genes provide resistances to various insects, nematode worms, viruses, and Phytophthora infestans, which caused the blight infection that resulted in the nineteenth-century Irish potato famine. Being able to manipulate and transfer these genes will help researchers quickly breed safe and tasty new potato varieties, and perhaps transfer the potato's valuable resistance genes to related plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
GM crops are widely grown in some countries, but are boycotted in others where many people object to genetic manipulation. As of 2001, 75 percent of all food crops grown in the United States were genetically modified, including 80 percent of soybeans, 68 percent of cotton, and 26 percent of corn crops. Farmers find that GM crops are cheaper to grow because their reliance on pesticides and fertilizer is less and a uniform crop is easier to harvest. Heavy reliance on the same varieties may be dangerous, however, if an environmental condition or disease should arise that targets the variety, but this dilemma also arises in traditional agriculture.
Because GM crop use is so pervasive in the United States, and because regulatory agencies evaluate the chemical composition and biological effects of crops rather than their origin, a consumer would not know that a fruit or vegetable has been genetically modified unless it is so labeled. Some people argue that these practices prevent consumers from having a choice of whether or not to use a genetically modified food.
Fletcher, Liz. "GM Crops Are No Panacea for Poverty." Nature Biotechnology 19, no. 9 (September 2001): 797-798.
Hileman, Bette. "Engineered Corn Poses Small Risk." Chemical and Engineering News 79, no. 38 (September 17, 2001): 11.
Maliga, Pat. "Plastid Engineering Bears Fruit." Nature Biotechnology 19, no. 9 (September 2001): 826-927.
Potrykus, I. "Golden Rice and Beyond." Plant Physiology 123 (March 2001): 1157-1161.
Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 2Genetically Modified Foods - Genetic Modification In Animals And Plants, Regulatory Concerns, The Technique Of Genetic Modification, Gm Beyond The Laboratory