Genetically Modified Food: Pros and Cons


Have you ever read the term GMO-free on your cereal box or any other food product packages that you have bought recently? Have you ever heard about the cube-shaped watermelons or tomatoes, or the blue strawberries? What are GMOs and what is its impact our health?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Genetically Modified Foods (GMF) are foods derived from organisms the DNA of which has been altered through the introduction and injection of a gene from a different organism. Unlike natural breeding, this process involves artificially introducing new traits to the original genetic material of the plant in a laboratory, applying methods of genetic engineering and biotechnology.

The process of direct gene transfer may happen between the same or another plant species, or from a totally unrelated organism, such as animals or fish. This mechanism of crossing species boundaries leads to the development of new supposedly improved traits that were previously difficult or even impossible to be obtained naturally.

Some of the acclaimed benefits of GMF are:
1) They have inbuilt resistance to plant diseases by possessing genes that protect them against insects, bacteria, pests, and viruses without the need of pesticides or insecticides;
2) They taste better and are rich in incorporated vitamins and minerals;
3) They have high nutritional qualities;
4) They have increased shelf life by remaining fresher for longer periods of time as their morphology is being altered in a way that makes their packing, storing, and transport more easy and economical;
5) GMFs are able to withstand environmental challenges of drought, frost, and pest infestations;
6) They are more environmentally friendly as they help in conserving natural reserves of water, soil and energy;
7) Last but not least, this kind of genetic manipulation of plants could help in several medicinal fields, such as vaccines and other pharmaceutical production.

GMFs include a variety of crops, cotton and maize (corn) are the most popular; they have been modified to include genes of a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), producing proteins that are toxic only to larval pests. Strawberries injected with anti-freeze fish genes of a species called the Arctic Flounder Fish result in blue-colored strawberries that do not degrade or become softer after being frozen. Modified Golden Rice is artificially bio-fortified to address vitamin A deficiency. Other examples include wheat, oats, soya beans, and seedless watermelons.

Some opposing scientists have suggested that DNA from GMF can be transferred into human body cells, making them completely unsafe for human use. They may also form new types of allergens that may cause severe sensitivity reactions and even toxicity to consumers, as many people suffer from various food allergies, in addition to leading to ecological problems, such as cross pollination between modified and natural crops. Finally, some of GMF crops responsible for vaccine and antibiotic production may cause antibiotic resistance and formation of new bacteria that are unresponsive to treatments.

All in all, it is certain that this kind of advanced technology became controversial worldwide. However, since it did not have enough time to be tested and is considered relatively new in planning and application, most scientists have agreed that there are not any known or unknown data on their safety.



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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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