Transgenic Organisms – Concept, types, advantages and examples

We explain what transgenic organisms are, how they are classified and how they are obtained. Its advantages, disadvantages and examples.

Transgenic organisms - transgenic foods
GM foods could solve world hunger.

What are transgenic organisms?

It is known as transgenic organisms or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to all those living beings whose genetic material has been adulterated by human intervention as a result of genetic engineering. This may involve artificial selection (the controlled crossing of species) or techniques for inserting genes into the genome of a species (known as transgenesis or cisgenesis).

Genetically modified organisms they are usually microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast, but also animal and plant species, which serve as input for experimental scientific studies, or as a source of so-called transgenic foods, whose consumption may well be a solution to the issue of hunger in the world, or a catastrophe for the planet’s biodiversity.

The production of this type of living beings and their commercialization or worldwide distribution occurs under the control of what is established in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (2000) and, often, constitutes cases of reflection on the part of the scientific and political community in what concerning ethical and moral positions that this type of genetic manipulation puts on the table.

Types of transgenic organisms

Transgenic organisms - microorganisms
Medical and food substances are obtained from transgenic microorganisms.

In principle, we can distinguish three types of transgenic organisms produced today:

  • Transgenic microorganisms. These are yeasts, fungi and bacteria, generally used to obtain medical and nutritional substances of great importance. Before these kinds of techniques were discovered, for example, the production of insulin for human use was very difficult and expensive; but thanks to genetic manipulation, it can be obtained from bacteria whose genome has been manipulated to insert genes from human proteins.
  • Transgenic animals. Transgenic animals are usually intended for laboratory use, either for understanding the genetic dynamics of life, or for obtaining human proteins or transgenic foods. For example, after studying the growth hormone of mice and managing to manipulate it to obtain larger specimens, it was possible to generate bovines with greater mass and faster growth, thus feeding the meat industry more efficiently or generating cows with greater capacity. milk generator, for the dairy industry.
  • Transgenic plants. Transgenic plants are usually food crops, and they have been modified to maximize their fruit production, to resist more extreme environments or pesticide products that formerly damaged them. Many of these transgenic species are harvested for the biofuel industry.

How do you get a transgenic organism?

Transgenic organisms - transgenic animals
Transgenic animals are unable to breed new individuals with their genome.

Cross or hybrid species have been common for a long time, especially in some fruit species (lemon, apple, etc.) and in the case of mules (donkey and horse hybrids). Nevertheless, hybrids are always sterile, unable to engender new individuals with their genome.

Today there are various techniques to insert or delete genes in the genome of the cells of a species, and make them heritable. On the one hand, the desired genes can be injected through specialized devices into the cell nucleus, or other living beings with the ability to transfer genes can be used, such as certain types of viruses (lentiviruses) and bacteria (such as Agrobacterium tumefaciens).

This type of transfers can occur between very distant species, or more easily between close species, such as two varieties of potato.

Advantages of transgenic organisms

Transgenic organisms give us the enormous advantage of being able to obtain biological or biochemical tools otherwise difficult to achieve, which is extremely beneficial for the advancement of modern medicine, the drug industry, and food technology.

Animal or plant species that produce more food faster they can be the solution to problems of scarcity and hunger in the world, and also represent a great step in biology’s understanding of the dynamics of genetics and inheritance.

Disadvantages of transgenic organisms

Transgenic organisms - seeds
The transgenic seeds could replace the natural or unmodified ones.

Not everything is perfect in the world of GMOs. On the one hand, The effects of GMOs on human health and nutrition are a matter of debate, since some affirm that they could be directly linked to the increase in the incidence rate in various ailments and diseases, although there are still no definitive conclusions on the matter.

On the other hand, the risk that modified species pose to natural species could be a huge blow to the planet’s biodiversity. Large corporations that handle transgenic products such as genetically modified seeds to grow bigger and better with less water, do whatever it takes to get their products onto the world market, guaranteeing immediate and profitable results for local producers. In that way modified seeds end up replacing natural or unmodified variantsThis is unfair competition that could lead to extinction of varieties of corn, wheat or sorghum that grow slower and yield less, but have been around for millions of years.

Examples of transgenic organisms

Some known examples of transgenic organisms are:

  • The first genetically modified food was in 1994 the Flav Savr tomato, which decomposed at a much slower rate than the ordinary one, allowing its collection closer to maturity (and not before, anticipating the shipping time), which gave them more flavor and more nutrients.
  • Golden rice is manipulated to generate precursors of vitamin A, which makes this grain a nutritionally reinforced food through genetic intervention.
  • AquAdvantage salmon is a type of Atlantic salmon fish that has had genes from Pacific salmon and haddock inserted for a larger version that grows year-round (and not just in summer and spring).
  • GM mosquitoes, resistant to malaria or dengue, were created in 2010 as part of the eradication strategy for this disease.