What is Genetically Modified Food?

Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

In this lesson, we will explore a recent advancement in agriculture known as genetic engineering. We'll look at how it's used to create genetically modified foods and also examine the advantages and disadvantages of these types of foods.

Genetic Engineering and Genetically Modified Foods

Think about the food you've eaten today. Most of us don't question where our food comes from or how it's grown, but we should. In the agricultural world, there has been an increase in genetic engineering, which is when the genetic makeup of an organism is altered by inserting, deleting, or changing specific pieces of DNA in order to obtain, modify, or prevent a specific characteristic. Organisms that have their genetic makeup altered are referred to as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs for short.

Genetically modified organisms have altered DNA
altered dna

If DNA is inserted, it can come from another individual or even another species with the desired characteristic, or it could be artificially produced. Many crops and animals are genetically engineered, sold to grocery stores, and then consumed by people

Types of Genetic Modification

There are a variety of ways that crops are genetically modified. One of the most common types of genetic engineering is when genes for bacteria are inserted into the crop. This type of genetic engineering works like an insecticide, which is a pesticide that targets unwanted insects, because when the insects consume the crop, they become infected by the bacteria, get sick, and eventually die.

Another common type of genetic engineering is when genes for herbicide resistance are inserted into crops. When herbicides, which are pesticides that target unwanted plants, are sprayed on the field, the weeds will be killed while the crop survives due to the insertion of the resistant genes.

In addition to these common types of genetic engineering, agricultural crops are also modified to resist diseases and produce crops that have higher protein concentrations, higher levels of vitamins and minerals, and delayed fruit ripening.

Commonly Modified Foods

The United States is responsible for producing almost half of the genetically engineered crops planted worldwide and currently devotes 40% of U.S. cropland to these modified crops. Although many crops have been genetically engineered over the years, there are three crops that are the focus of genetic engineering: corn, soybean, and cotton. In the United States, 80% of corn and 93% of cotton and soybean are genetically modified.

Common genetically modified crops: corn, soybeans, and cotton

Animals can also be genetically modified. Cows, chickens, and pigs are examples of farm animals that are often genetically modified. These animals are being genetically altered to grow faster, grow larger, and have more proteins and nutrients. This makes it possible for farmers to get more money for their livestock and also produce more animals in a shorter time frame. The image below shows how chickens have changed over the years--chickens are often genetically modified to grow larger.

Chickens have become larger over the years due to genetic modification.

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