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Genetically modified organism A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species. Some GMOs contain no DNA from other species and are therefore not transgenic but cisgenic
Production Genetic modification involves the insertion or deletion of genes. When genes are inserted, they usually come from a different species, which is a form of horizontal gene transfer. In nature this can occur when exogenous DNA penetrates the cell membrane for any reason. To do this artificially may require attaching the genes to a virusor just physically inserting the extra DNA into the nucleus of the intended host with a very small syringe, or with very small particles fired from a gene gun However, other methods exploit natural forms of gene transfer, such as the ability of Agrobacteriumto transfer genetic material to plants,orthe ability of lentiviruses to transfer genes to animal cells.
Uses GMOs have widespread applications. They are used in biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine (e.g. gene therapy), and agriculture (e.g. golden rice). The term "genetically modified organism" does not always imply, but can include, targeted insertions of genes from one specie into another. For example, a gene from a jellyfish, encoding a fluorescent protein called GFP, can be physically linked and thus co-expressed with mammalian genes to identify the location of the protein encoded by the GFP-tagged gene in the mammalian cell. Such methods are useful tools for biologists in many areas of research, including those who study the mechanisms of human and other diseases or fundamental biological processes in eukaryotic or prokaryotic cells.
To date the broadest and most controversial application of GMO technology is patent-protected food crops which are resistant to commercial herbicides or are able to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant, or stacked trait seeds, which do both. The largest share of the GMO crops planted globally are owned by the US firm Monsanto.In 2007, Monsanto's trait technologies were planted on 246 million acres (1,000,000 km2) throughout the world, a growth of 13 percent from 2006.
Transgenic animals Transgenic animals are also becoming useful commercially. On February 6, 2009 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first human biological drug produced from such an animal, a goat. The drug, ATryn, is an anticoagulant which reduces the probability of blood clots during surgery or childbirth. It is extracted from the goat's milk.
Some chimeras, like the blotched mouse shown, are created through genetic modification techniques like gene targeting. Transgenic animals are used as experimental models to perform phenotypic and for testing in biomedical research. Other applications include the production of human hormones such as insulin.
Transgenic plants have been engineered to possess several desirable traits, including resistance to pests, herbicides, or harsh environmental conditions; improved product shelf life, and increased nutritional value. Since the first commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants in 1996, they have been modified to be tolerant to the herbicides glufosinate and glyphosate, to be resistant to virus damage as in Ring spot virus resistant GM papaya, grown in Hawaii, and to produce the Bt toxin, a potent insecticide. Most of transgenic varieties grown today are known as first generation transgenic, because the transgenic trait provides benefits to farmers. Plants of the second generation should directly benefit the consumer with nutritional enhancement, taste, texture, etc. Transgenic plants of the second generation are being developed by both public research institutions and private companies. Currently there is no such transgenic variety on the market. Genetically modified sweet potatoes have been enhanced with protein and other nutrients, while golden rice, developed by the International Rice Research Institute, has been discussed as a possible cure for Vitamin A deficiency. In January 2008, scientists altered a carrot so that it would produce calcium and become a possible cure for osteoporosis; however, people would need to eat 1.5 kilograms of carrots per day to reach the required amount of calcium.
Cisgenic plants While conventional transgenic plants are developed by introduction of a gene originating from distant, sexually incompatible species into the host genome, cisgenic plants contain genes which have been isolated either directly from the host species or from sexually compatible species. The new genes are however introduced using recombinant DNA methods and gene transfer. Principally the same result could be obtained by classical breeding. However the disadvantage of classical breeding is that with one desired trait also a number of undesired traits are transferred and the number of backcrosses necessary to remove these undesired traits approaches infinity. Some scientists hope that the approval process of cisgenic plants might be simpler than that of proper transgenics, but it remains to be seen.
What are genetically-modified foods? The term GM foods or GMOs (genetically-modified organisms) is most commonly used to refer to crop plants created for human or animal consumption using the latest molecular biology techniques. These plants have been modified in the laboratory to enhance desired traits such as increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content. The enhancement of desired traits has traditionally been undertaken through breeding, but conventional plant breeding methods can be very time consuming and are often not very accurate. Genetic engineering, on the other hand, can create plants with the exact desired trait very rapidly and with great accuracy. For example, plant geneticists can isolate a gene responsible for drought tolerance and insert that gene into a different plant. The new genetically-modified plant will gain drought tolerance as well. Not only can genes be transferred from one plant to another, but genes from non-plant organisms also can be used. The best known example of this is the use of B.t. genes in corn and other crops. B.t., or Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae. B.t. crystal protein genes have been transferred into corn, enabling the corn to produce its own pesticides against insects such as the European corn borer. For two informative overviews of some of the techniques involved in creating GM foods, visit Biotech Basics (sponsored by Monsanto)
What are some of the advantagesof GM foods? Pest resistance Crop losses from insect pests can be staggering, resulting in devastating financial loss for farmers and starvation in developing countries. Farmers typically use many tons of chemical pesticides annually. Consumers do not wish to eat food that has been treated with pesticides because of potential health hazards, and run-off of agricultural wastes from excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers can poison the water supply and cause harm to the environment. Growing GM foods such as B.t. corn can help eliminate the application of chemical pesticides and reduce the cost of bringing a crop to market
Herbicide tolerance For some crops, it is not cost-effective to remove weeds by physical means such as tilling, so farmers will often spray large quantities of different herbicides (weed-killer) to destroy weeds, a time-consuming and expensive process, that requires care so that the herbicide doesn't harm the crop plant or the environment. Crop plants genetically-engineered to be resistant to one very powerful herbicide could help prevent environmental damage by reducing the amount of herbicides needed. For example, Monsanto has created a strain of soybeans genetically modified to be not affected by their herbicide product Roundup ®6. A farmer grows these soybeans which then only require one application of weed-killer instead of multiple applications, reducing production cost and limiting the dangers of agricultural waste run-off7.
Disease resistance There are many viruses, fungi and bacteria that cause plant diseases. Plant biologists are working to create plants with genetically-engineered resistance to these diseases.
Cold tolerance Unexpected frost can destroy sensitive seedlings. An antifreeze gene from cold water fish has been introduced into plants such as tobacco and potato. With this antifreeze gene, these plants are able to tolerate cold temperatures that normally would kill unmodified seedlings
Drought tolerance/salinity tolerance As the world population grows and more land is utilized for housing instead of food production, farmers will need to grow crops in locations previously unsuited for plant cultivation. Creating plants that can withstand long periods of drought or high salt content in soil and groundwater will help people to grow crops in formerly inhospitable places.
Nutrition Malnutrition is common in third world countries where impoverished peoples rely on a single crop such as rice for the main staple of their diet. However, rice does not contain adequate amounts of all necessary nutrients to prevent malnutrition. If rice could be genetically engineered to contain additional vitamins and minerals, nutrient deficiencies could be alleviated. For example, blindness due to vitamin A deficiency is a common problem in third world countries. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Institute for Plant Sciences have created a strain of "golden" rice containing an unusually high content of beta-carotene (vitamin A)13. Since this rice was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation14, a non-profit organization, the Institute hopes to offer the golden rice seed free to any third world country that requests it. Plans were underway to develop a golden rice that also has increased iron content. However, the grant that funded the creation of these two rice strains was not renewed, perhaps because of the vigorous anti-GM food protesting in Europe, and so this nutritionally-enhanced rice may not come to market at all
Pharmaceuticals Medicines and vaccines often are costly to produce and sometimes require special storage conditions not readily available in third world countries. Researchers are working to develop edible vaccines in tomatoes and potatoes. These vaccines will be much easier to ship, store and administer than traditional injectable vaccines.
Conclusion With this advantages and our environment changing maybe we need GMO’s in the future.