Genetically Modified Organisms – Concept, uses, examples

We explain what genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are, their advantages, disadvantages and what they are used for.

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The genetic material of GMOs was artificially modified.

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are those microorganisms, plants or animals whose hereditary material (DNA) is manipulated through biotechnology techniques that are alien to the natural methods of multiplication or combination.

Through genetic modification it is possible, for example, to alter the expression of a gene or transfer it to another organism (of the same or a different species).

Biotechnology techniques applied to genetically modified organisms are also called “modern biotechnology”, “genetic technology”, “DNA technology” or “genetic engineering“. They are used, to a greater extent, in the food industry (agriculture and livestock) and in medicine (for vaccines or to reverse inherited diseases).

Advantages and disadvantages of GMOs

Among the main advantages of genetically modified organisms are:

  • Greater resistance to harmful agents. Genetically modified seeds provide crops capable of withstanding disease caused by insects or viruses, and capable of tolerating herbicides and pesticides (for example, RR soybeans are resistant to a highly toxic herbicide, made from glyphosate).
  • Improvements in composition and nutritional value. Through the inclusion of vitamins, the elimination of allergens and the modification of the protein content, products such as corn, rice, tomatoes, soybeans, potatoes, etc. are obtained. with an improved composition.
  • Greater tolerance to droughts and floods. Genetically modified crops are resistant to numerous environmental factors and therefore offer advantages to producers compared to traditional crops by reducing the risk of crop failure.

Among the main disadvantages of genetically modified organisms are:

  • The intensive use of soils. The land is affected, mainly by two issues: the amount of toxic residues resulting from herbicides and pesticides (which are sprayed on genetically modified crops) and continuous sowing that does not allow the land to rest to recover its organic matter and humidity (technique called “fallow”).
  • Genetic contamination. The introduction of genetically modified plants can harm the environment and affect biodiversity. For example, a plant can become a pest if it grows outside of the original site where its harvest was contemplated or if it transfers its modified genes to other crops (in the United States, for example, traces of a type of corn that had only been approved for feeding farm animals).
  • Health problems. In 1992, scientists from the United States government agency “Food and Drug Administration”, responsible for the regulation of food, drugs, cosmetics, among others, warned that genetically modified foods can cause unpredictable and difficult to detect side effects such as allergies , toxins in the body, new diseases and nutritional problems.
  • Patented seeds. Genetically modified seeds have intellectual property rights from the multinational corporations that created them. These intellectual property rights establish that farmers cannot conserve these seeds for future harvests, causing producers to buy new seeds and their corresponding agrochemicals each year (with the possibility of a higher cost compared to traditional seeds).
  • Still unknown adverse effects. Due to the fact that genetic manipulation in food was approved for commercialization in 1994, not enough time has elapsed to determine exactly the consequences that the different products whose genes have been modified have on health and the environment.

Applications of genetically modified organisms

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Genetically modified crops are more resistant.

Genetically modified organisms are applied in different areas and among the main ones, the following stand out:

  • The agro-livestock industry. Through the genetic manipulation of seeds, crops can be optimized in favor of the consumer industry, both for feeding farm animals and for human consumption.
  • Medicine. Through the manufacture of pharmaceutical supplies, access to treatments for certain diseases was facilitated. For example, people with diabetes can take human insulin that comes from genetically engineered human genes.
  • The food industry. Through genetic modifications in animals, biotechnological processes in food production are optimized. For example, by modifying components, higher production can be achieved in less time. Genetic modifications are also used to combat diseases in animals (resulting from mass production in feedlots or feedlot, English name and commonly used).

Transgenic organisms

Transgenic organisms are those to which they have been introduced to a piece of DNA that comes from another organism, that is not sexually compatible. For example, a variety of transgenic corn contains genes from a bacterium in order to make its cultivation more resistant.

Although it is very common to use both terms synonymously, transgenic organisms are a variant of GMOs, but not all GMOs are made by the technique of “transgenesis”.

Another variant of GMO is the “cisgenesis” technique. which consists of modifying the DNA of an organism with the gene that comes from another, but sexually compatible. It is used, for example, in the reproduction of plants of different species.