How GMOs Help Feed the World
By Emily Valerio Edited by Chloe Norman
Although genetically modified organisms, GMOS for short, sound like something out of Jurassic Park, they play a huge role in our daily lives. But what are GMOs and how do they impact our health?
Even though GMOs sound like a made up concept plucked from a science fiction novel, humans have been genetically engineering plants for thousands of years! Ever since humans learned how to farm, they’ve been selectively breeding plants to have the most desirable traits. For example, if one field of corn was sweeter than the others, farmers would only replant the seeds of that field to ensure that their next harvest would be filled with the better tasting corn. Expanding upon their practice of selective breeding, around 8,000 BCE farmers introduced a new method of genetic engineering: cross breeding. When a farmer cross breeds a plant, this means that they mix the traits of two different types of plants in order to create a new plant with the strongest traits. For example, almost all of the bananas that you see during your daily trip to the grocery store are a cross between M. acuminata, a smaller species, and M. balbisiana, a seedier species!
Today, scientists are able to help farmers plant the best crops by using GMOs. This is made possible by altering a plant’s DNA, the genetic instructions found inside of every organisms’ body that decide all of their traits. Scientists now know exactly which part of the instructions to change in order to make plants better! For example, scientists can utilize changes in DNA to make strawberries bigger, watermelons sweeter, or even to make ordinary grapes taste like cotton candy.
However, GMOs aren’t only more delicious. Through genetic modification, scientists are also able to develop food that is safer for mass consumption. For example, GMOs help reduce the use of chemical pesticides on our food. Before scientists were able to change specific parts of DNA, harsh chemical pesticides were used to make sure that insects weren’t ruining food harvests. While these pesticides were very effective in killing bugs, they were also extremely dangerous to humans’ health. Although pesticides have become less harmful since then, GMOs are a safer alternative that avoids the use of chemicals entirely! Scientists have figured out a way to modify parts of the plant to make them unappealing to insects yet safe for humans. Another major benefit of GMOs is their ability to reduce food shortages and famine across the world. Because GMOs are made to be resistant to disease and tolerable to harsh environmental conditions, they are able to reduce the risk of large-scale famines and ensure everyone has enough nutritious food to eat.
Despite all of GMOs’ amazing qualities, certain people believe that GMOs are dangerous because they are unnatural. Mostly, this concern stems from the fact that scientists may alter something in the DNA without knowing, which could possibly harm the people who go on to eat genetically modified food. However, this concern is very unlikely due to the fact that DNA is never absorbed into the body when we digest food. Although there have been many studies to determine whether or not GMOs pose a risk to human health, there is zero evidence that GMOs have a negative impact on people’s well being.
As scientists continue to learn more about DNA, they’ll be able to make even cooler GMOs. Until then, we can appreciate all the ways that the GMOs we eat today keep us happier and healthier!
Stearns, S. (2017, August 28). Science of GMOs - College of Ag, Health and Natural
Resources. Gmo.uconn.edu. https://gmo.uconn.edu/
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2023). Science and History of GMOs and Other Food
Modification Processes. Science and History of GMOs and Other Food Modification