The science behind GM crops

More than 10% of the cultivated land in the world is devoted to genetically modified crops or GM crops. Scientists around the world say GM crops can solve the world’s hunger problem. Concerns about health and the environment still prevail. What are GM crops and what are their advantages and disadvantages? Let’s find out…

As the name suggests, GM foods involve altering the genes of one crop to incorporate beneficial traits from another crop or organism. This could mean changing the way the plant grows or making it resistant to a particular disease. Foods produced using the modified culture are called GM foods. This is done using the tools of genetic engineering.

How is it made?

Suppose the scientists want to produce high protein wheat and decide to incorporate the high protein quality of beans into the wheat. To make this possible, a specific DNA sequence with a protein-making trait is isolated from the bean (called the donor organism) and inserted into the genetic structure of wheat, in a laboratory process. The new gene or transgene thus produced is transferred to the recipient cells (wheat cells). The cells are then grown in tissue culture where they develop into plants. The seeds produced by these plants will inherit the new DNA structure.

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The traditional cultivation of these seeds will then be undertaken and we will have genetically modified wheat with a high protein content. The trait can be anything. DNA from one very pest resistant plant can be introduced into another so that the second plant variety has the pest resistance character. A blueberry DNA could be inserted into that of a banana to obtain a blue banana. The exchange could be carried out between two or more organizations. You can even introduce a fish gene into a plant. You do not believe in it ? Consider this fact. Genes from an arctic fish have been inserted into tomatoes to make them frost tolerant. This tomato has earned the nickname “fish tomato”. But he never reached the market.

What are the benefits of GM crops?

GM crops are seen to provide benefits to both producers and consumers. Some of them are listed below …

• Genetic engineering can improve crop protection. Crops with better resistance to pests and diseases can be created. The use of herbicides and pesticides can be reduced or even eliminated.

• Farmers can get a high yield and thus get more income.

• Nutritional content can be improved.

• The shelf life of food can be extended.

• Foods with better taste and texture can be obtained.

• Crops can be designed to withstand extreme weather conditions

Why is there strong opposition to GM crops?

Genetically modified foods often have unexpected side effects. Genetic engineering is a new field, and the long-term results are unclear. Very little testing has been done on GM foods.

• Some crops have been designed to create their own toxins against parasites. This can harm non-targets such as farm animals that ingest them. Toxins can also cause allergies and affect digestion in humans.

• In addition, GM crops are modified to include antibiotics to kill germs and parasites. And when we eat them, these antibiotic markers will persist in our bodies and make the actual antibiotic drugs less effective over a period of time, leading to threats of superbugs. This means that diseases will become more difficult to cure.

• In addition to health and environmental concerns, activists point out social and economic issues. They expressed serious concerns that multinational agribusiness companies are taking over agriculture from the hands of small farmers. Dependence on GM seed companies could prove to be a financial burden for farmers.

• Farmers are reluctant because they will have limited rights to save and reuse seeds.

• Their concern also includes finding a market that would accept GM foods.

• People in general are wary of GM crops because they are designed in the laboratory and do not occur in nature.

About Alma Ackerman

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