Is genetically modified food safe for us and the environment?

Is genetically modified food safe for us and the environment?

Genetically modified food
Judy Carman, Natalie Parletta

Genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) crops is a controversial topic that is underpinned by important questions of whether they are safe to eat and safe for the environment.

This article gives an overview of how these crops are genetically modified, the potential benefits and risks of these crops, considerations for assessing their safety, and how GM foods are currently regulated and labelled.

Genes and the technology of genetic engineering

Each human, animal and plant is made up of trillions of cells. Each of those cells has a nucleus that contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Genes, which are made of DNA, provide instructions for organisms to make proteins and enzymes to carry out biological processes that are essential for the structure and function of that organism.

To breed new plant varieties, traditional plant breeders take a plant with a desired characteristic (e.g. a high yield) and cross-pollinate it with another plant with another desired characteristic (e.g. disease resistance) to try to develop a plant with both characteristics in it. Genes are then passed down through generations in an organised manner that is consistent with the laws of nature. However, plants won’t cross-breed like this if the plants are sufficiently different to each other. For example, you can’t cross a rose plant with a wheat plant. And you certainly can’t cross a fish with a tomato.

Plant breeders who want to do that kind of plant breeding use genetic engineering, where specific pieces of DNA are directly transferred from one organism into another in a laboratory. This allows you to transfer genes between completely different species.  READ MORE

Published in Nutridate, Vol. 28, No. 2, May 2017: 3-8, Warringal Publications

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