What is a GMO?

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms are organisms whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is the modification of an organism's phenotype by altering its genetic make-up. Genetic engineering is primarily performed by simple mating or gene recombination. A latter section in this module elaborates further on how genetically modified crops are created. . GMOs range from micro-organisms like yeast and bacteria to insects, plants, fish and mammals. Genetically modified crops (GM crops) are those engineered to introduce a new trait into the species. Purposes of GM crops generally include resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, or resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a herbicide). Other purposed of genetic modification of crops is to enhance its nutritional value, as seen in the case of golden rice.

The use of GM crops is widely debated. At the moment there is no known harm in consuming genetically modified foods. GM foods are developed – and marketed – because there is some perceived advantage either to the producer or consumer of these foods. This is meant to translate into a product with a lower price, greater benefit (in terms of durability or nutritional value) or both.

GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.

History of GMOs

Additionally, with the production of golden rice, scientists have genetically modified food to increase its nutrient value for the first time.

GMOs and the media

Opinions about GMOs have long being polarized by the perspective of the writer. Consequently, finding unbiased sources is challenging. As seen later in this module, there are various risks and benefits to using genetically modified crops on a large scale, and thus people on both sides of the GMO spectrum have valid points. New research is coming out regularly on new and unknown facts related to the use of GMOs.

Some of the latest articles about GMOs in the news are provided in the table below. As with any news item, their content should be read with a healthy dose of skepticism.

News Article


Glowing plant project on Kickstarter sparks debate about regulation of DNA modification

This article from the Washington Post talks about a recent project working on creating plants that glow in the dark after genetic modification.

GMOs versus Overuse of Antibiotics: Which is the Greater Evil?

This article in Forbes addresses the push by the anti-GMO people to label genetically modified foods as GMOs, and compares the alleged risks of using GM foods to antibiotic resistance.

Warning labels for safe stuff: One way or another, labelling of GM food may be coming to America

This article discusses Initiative 522, a measure currently before voters which would require most foodstuffs sold in retail outlets to bear a conspicuous label if they contain genetically modified ingredients. The rule would come into force in July 2015 for any product where GM ingredients are more than 0.9% of the total weight.

Top Five Myths Of Genetically Modified Seeds, Busted

This NPR blog-post addresses some myths about GM seeds specifically.