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Time to Talk about GMOs-Part 1

August 8, 2012

Until recently I had never heard of GMO and had no idea what it is. Now, as I learn more and more I am increasingly concerned and believe all of us should be, particularly if you do not know your farmer.

Since I figure I was no more ignorant than anyone else, I am assuming that most people are also unaware of the role that GMOs play in our food supply, so it is time to start a discussion to raise your awareness.

This is pretty serious, so I will write in several sections to give small “bites” so to speak, the better to digest the info I will share.

If there are words you don’t know, check the Glossary page on the blogsite. If the word is not there, send me a message and I will add it.  Use the comments section on the blog itself to add your concerns and questions.

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GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism.  Keeping this pretty simplified so people who may not have had any biology classes in the recent past (like me) can understand: a gene from one plant or animal that has a trait that is desired is put into the cell of another animal or plant so that new one also can have the same trait.  This is called genetic engineering.

This has been done for centuries with breeding techniques; choosing the cow that produces a lot of milk to breed with the bull so her female offspring most likely carry that milk production capability,  for example. Race horses, dogs, you name it, any breed that has a characteristic that could be enhanced through careful matching up of male and female has been done. It was done systematically, with the male and female being brought together to do what happens naturally, or by artificial insemination.

source: Desert Bred Arabian Stud Inc

It has also been done with plants, creating hybrids to enhance characteristics that are favorable.

But now, we have the scientific capability of changing the genes INSIDE of the cells. The genes carry the messages for those characteristics that are desired. Furthermore, by making the changes inside the cells we can get animals which would never have a successful breeding program, to share characteristics.

Conventional 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.

It sounds wonderful, the magic of modern science. And that is how it started. But it continued into areas that started to mix things up.

There is a bacteria called  B.t., or Bacillus thuringiensis commonly found in soil. A bacterium is a one-cell organism that is neither a plant nor an animal. B.t. produces crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae and those genes have been transferred into corn, enabling the corn to produce its own pesticides against insects. This means that the corn will not be eaten up by insects as it grows in the field.

Sounds good…..but we have to consider who is going to be eating that corn and what affect it may have on them. And decide if it is still going to be a good idea.

More tomorrow.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    August 8, 2012 2:27 pm

    Excellent article! Thank you for taking on this subject for us all to learn what is going on behind the scenes to food that we might be eating either through primary or secondary sources.

  2. August 8, 2012 7:20 pm

    Really clear explanation. Looking forward to the next installments. What you say right at the end about considering what effect it may have on those who eat it, and if that’s a good idea – that’s why the EU has banned GMO’s. I’m not againsts hybridization – I have hybrid laying hens, for example, but when it comes to more recent innovations in genetic science, I’m defintitely of the school of thought that wonders if we should do things just because we can.

  3. August 8, 2012 7:20 pm

    Very impressive summary so far. Clear, concise and very informative. Good job, Beth!

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