You may have heard of GMOs, or GM crops. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. There are a few ways to genetically modify life forms, such as splicing DNA in laboratories, or through selective farming and cross breeding.
Genetically modified organisms are not the same organisms as those breed for special qualities. For instance, a farmer may have breed a chicken breed that lays eggs year round with a chicken breed that lays multiple eggs per day to make chickens that will produce eggs year round with multiple eggs per day. This selective breeding is why there are so many types of dogs today. Dogs with special qualities were breed, until there were enough dogs with the same qualities to become their own breed. A GMO is an organism that had its DNA modified in a laboratory.
Above: an example of selective breeding.
The big GMO rush started when scientists heard about the need for a cure from ring spot virus in papaya plants. Scientists spliced parts from DNA of plants that were immune to the ring spot virus into the papaya DNA, and discovered this quickly made the new plants immune to ring spot virus. Papaya was the first organism to be genetically modified, commercially grown, and sold. After papaya, scientists spliced the BT gene that kills grubs into corn. They also spliced a gene that kills weeds into soy plants.
Above: an infected papaya plant and its fruit.
The chemical fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide company Monsanto realized they were losing money because of the advances in GMOs. They hired scientist to develop plants that had DNA that would incorporate the Monsanto herbicides and pesticides, then Monsanto copyrighted their crops. They soon learned that farmers were buying their expensive crops, and saving the seeds for the next season’s crop. Monsanto quickly invented and spliced the terminator gene into their seeds, rendering their crops incapable of reproducing.
Above: Monsanto’s logo
Crops are not the only genetically modified organisms. GMOs range from cotton plants to fish that glow. Some of these organisms were not modified for the help of the production of the organism. For example the fish that glow are just a commodity. They make cool pets for children, and can also help teach people about genetic modification.
Above: fish that glow! And in different colors!
These new advances in technology may seem like the end to all farming issues, but they lead to many unanswered questions and some negatives. For example, the BT modified corn produced by Monsanto is believed to be responsible for the now “indestructible” insects that are immune to the BT gene. What are these chemically infused organisms doing to our bodies? What happens to the crops that are never collected and are eaten by wildlife? These are the questions we, and farmers, need to be asking.
“Harvest of Fear” by PBS and Frontline movie