A genetically modified organism or GMO is any kind of living being which has had its DNA altered in some way, typically to provide benefits to humans. Typically organisms are modified to provide increased resources. Genetic modification can be done for a number of different purposes including altering the size of organisms like wheat to produce more seeds for example. This is done through a dwarfing gene which is derived from Japanese short straw wheat. This allows the organism to put more of its resources into seeds as opposed to growing taller. Ultimately any trait inhibited or activated by a gene can be introduced into a genetically modified organism. There has yet to be an approved genetic modification in animals however plants have been successfully modified. There are now apples that never brown, tomatoes which stay ripe longer, more nutritious rice, herbicide, pesticide and disease resistant plants etc.

Example of dwarfing genes in wheat retrieved from newhallmill

It is also important to note that genetic modification is different from artificial selection. Both processes share human involvement but happen through a different process. Artificial selection is merely the human selection of organisms which are most beneficial to them. An example of this is a dog breeder letting the cutest dogs of a litter survive. This makes the dog species cuter as a whole over time. Genetic modification however involves the direct altering of the genes of an organism. This occurs generally through the simple insertion of a few DNA base pairs into a genetic sequence. There are a few general steps this process occurs in. First the chosen gene for example a dwarfing gene in wheat must be either extracted from a different species or synthesized from components. Once this gene is obtained it is inserted into the DNA of the target organism, to code for proteins however promoter regions must also be present for this gene to be used. Then the DNA must be inserted into a cell. This can occur through a gun which launches DNA coated particles into the genetic material of the cell. DNA splicing the use of modified viral DNA or horizontal gene transfer can also alter the genetic sequences of a target species. Horizontal gene transfer can be used to insert specific genes into bacteria typically E-Coli which can then act as a sort of vehicle to sort of infect the target cell with the DNA. Genes can also be inserted directly into eggs, or electric shocks can be used to create gaps in the cell membrane of a sperm cell where genes can then be inserted. This process is most effective when used on reproductive cells so offspring will wholly inherit these traits as opposed to having to alter every single cell of an organism.

Examples of horizontal gene transfer,

Although GMO’s created in this way have brought massive benefits including preventing famines in the growing world by increasing food productivity. GMO’s often get a sort of ‘bad wrap’ by the common public. This is largely out of fear, GMO’s are said to have a small chance of inducing food allergies, studies also suggest that horizontal gene transfer may occur  between GMO’s and other plants leading to things like pesticide resistance weeds. GMO’s pass all the FDA food restrictions however and could be regarded as simple food with different traits, evolved food even. In spite of the fact that it is artificially created, one could also argue that dogs and cows are artificially created by humans through domestication and artificial selection however these species are regarded as natural in spite of the fact that humans created them. With this being said why can’t GMO’s be regarded as natural or at least necessary to humanity itself.


GMO statistics,

Ultimately genetically modified organisms are a direct result of biotechnology in the sense that knowledge of biology (gene manipulation, horizontal gene transfer, chromosomes and DNA itself, how proteins are coded for etc) has been practically applied to yield this results. I would want to know just how far genetic modification can go, because humans could in theory create whole new species from scratch given our knowledge of genetics and things like reproductive cloning. I would also want to know the broader applications of genetic modification like could a disease be fought by implementing a specific trait into bacteria through horizontal gene transfer on a case by case basis.

By Lee Cadotte and Kishav Changar

Italian blood cells before genetic modification
Italian blood cells after genetic modification

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