A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques (i.e., a genetically engineered organism). GMOs are used to produce many medications and genetically modified foods and are widely used in scientific research and the production of other goods. The term GMO is very close to the technical legal term, 'living modified organism', defined in the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which regulates international trade in living GMOs (specifically, "any living organism that possesses a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology").
A more specifically defined type of GMO is a "transgenic organism." This is an organism whose genetic makeup has been altered by the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism. This should not be confused with the more general way in which "GMO" is used to classify genetically altered organisms, as typically GMOs are organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered without the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism.
Creating a genetically modified organism (GMO) is a multi-step process. Genetic engineers must isolated the gene they wish to insert into the host organism. This can be taken from a cell containing the gene or artificially synthesised. If the chosen gene or the donor organism's genome has been well studied it may already be accessible from a genetic library. The gene is then combined with other genetic elements, including a promoter and terminator region and a selectable marker.
There are a number of techniques available for inserting the isolated gene into the host genome. Bacteria can be induced to take up foreign DNA by being exposed to certain stresses (e.g. thermal or electric shock). DNA is generally inserted into animal cells using microinjection, where it can be injected through the cell's nuclear envelope directly into the nucleus, or through the use of viral vectors. In plants the DNA is often inserted using Agrobacterium-mediated recombination,biolistics or electroporation.
As only a single cell is transformed with genetic material, the organism must be regenerated from that single cell. In plants this is accomplished through tissue culture. In animals it is necessary to ensure that the inserted DNA is present in the embryonic stem cells. Further testing using PCR, Southern hybridization, and DNA sequencing is conducted to confirm that an organism contains the new gene.
Traditionally the new genetic material was inserted randomly within the host genome. Gene targeting techniques, which creates double-stranded breaks and takes advantage on the cells natural homologous recombination repair systems, have been developed to target insertion to exact locations. Genome editing uses artificially engineered nucleases that create breaks at specific points. There are four families of engineered nucleases: meganucleases,zinc finger nucleases,transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and the Cas9-guideRNA system (adapted from CRISPR). TALEN and CRISPR are the two most commonly used and each has its own advantages. TALENs have greater target specificity, while CRISPR is easier to design and more efficient.
Humans have domesticated plants and animals since around 12,000 BCE, using selective breeding or artificial selection (as contrasted with natural selection).:25 The process of selective breeding, in which organisms with desired traits (and thus with the desired genes) are used to breed the next generation and organisms lacking the trait are not bred, is a precursor to the modern concept of genetic modification.:1:1 Various advancements in genetics allowed humans to directly alter the DNA and therefore genes of organisms. In 1972 Paul Berg created the first recombinant DNA molecule when he combined DNA from a monkey virus with that of the lambda virus.
Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen made the first genetically modified organism in 1973. They took a gene from a bacterium that provided resistance to the antibiotic kanamycin, inserted it into a plasmid and then induced another bacteria to incorporate the plasmid. The bacteria was then able to survive in the presence of kanamycin. Boyer and Cohen expressed other genes in bacteria. This included genes from the toad Xenopus laevis in 1974, creating the first GMO expressing a gene from an organism from different kingdom.
In 1974 Rudolf Jaenisch created a transgenic mouse by introducing foreign DNA into its embryo, making it the world's first transgenic animal. However it took another eight years before transgenic mice were developed that passed the transgene to their offspring. Genetically modified mice were created in 1984 that carried cloned oncogenes, predisposing them to developing cancer. Mice with genes knocked out (knockout mouse) were created in 1989. The first transgenic livestock were produced in 1985 and the first animal to synthesise transgenic proteins in their milk were mice, engineered to produce human tissue plasminogen activator in 1987.
In 1983 the first genetically engineered plant was developed by Michael W. Bevan, Richard B. Flavell and Mary-Dell Chilton. They infected tobacco with Agrobacterium transformed with an antibiotic resistance gene and through tissue culture techniques were able to grow a new plant containing the resistance gene. The gene gun was invented in 1987, allowing transformation of plants not susceptible to Agrobacterium infection. In 2000, Vitamin A-enriched golden rice, was the first plant developed with increased nutrient value.
In 1976 Genentech, the first genetic engineering company was founded by Herbert Boyer and Robert Swanson; a year later, the company produced a human protein (somatostatin) in E.coli. Genentech announced the production of genetically engineered human insulin in 1978. The insulin produced by bacteria, branded humulin, was approved for release by the Food and Drug Administration in 1982. In 1988 the first human antibodies were produced in plants. In 1987, the ice-minus strain of Pseudomonas syringae became the first genetically modified organism to be released into the environment when a strawberry field and a potato field in California were sprayed with it.
The first genetically modified crop, an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant, was produced in 1982. China was the first country to commercialize transgenic plants, introducing a virus-resistant tobacco in 1992. In 1994 Calgene attained approval to commercially release the Flavr Savr tomato, the first genetically modified food. Also in 1994, the European Union approved tobacco engineered to be resistant to the herbicide bromoxynil, making it the first genetically engineered crop commercialized in Europe. An insect resistant Potato was approved for release in the US in 1995, and by 1996 approval had been granted to commercially grow 8 transgenic crops and one flower crop (carnation) in 6 countries plus the EU.
In 2010, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute, announced that they had created the first synthetic bacterial genome. They named it Synthia and it was the world's first synthetic life form.
The first genetically modified animal to be commercialised was the GloFish, a Zebra fish with a fluorescent gene added that allows it to glow in the dark under ultraviolet light. The first genetically modified animal to be approved for food use was AquAdvantage salmon in 2015. The salmon were transformed with a growth hormone-regulating gene from a Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter from an ocean pout enabling it to grow year-round instead of only during spring and summer.
There are a wide variety of organisms that have been genetically engineered, from animals to plants and microorganisms. Genes have been transferred within the same species, across species and even across kingdoms. New genes can be introduced, or endogenous genes can be enhanced, altered or knocked out. GMOs have been used in biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine (e.g. gene therapy and vaccines against the Ebola virus), and agriculture (e.g. golden rice, resistance to herbicides), with developing uses in conservation.
Bacteria were the first organisms to be genetically modified in the laboratory, due to the relative ease of modifying their chromosomes. This ease made them important tools for the creation of other GMOs. Genes and other genetic information from a wide range of organisms can be added to a plasmid and inserted into bacteria for storage and modification. Bacteria are cheap, easy to grow, clonal, multiply quickly, are relatively easy to transform, and can be stored at −80 °C almost indefinitely. Once a gene is isolated it can be stored inside the bacteria, providing an unlimited supply for research. The large number of custom plasmids make manipulating DNA excised from bacteria relatively easy. In the field of synthetic biology, they have been used to test various synthetic approaches, from synthesizing genomes to creating novel nucleotides.
Bacteria have been used in the production of food for a long time, and specific strains have been developed and selected for that work on an industrial scale. They can be used to produce enzymes, amino acids, flavourings, and other compounds used in food production. With the advent of genetic engineering, new genetic changes can easily be introduced into these bacteria. Most food-producing bacteria are lactic acid bacteria, and this is where the majority of research into genetically engineering food-producing bacteria has gone. The bacteria can be modified to operate more efficiently, reduce toxic byproduct production, increase output, create improved compounds, and remove unnecessary pathways. Food products from genetically modified bacteria include alpha-amylase, which converts starch to simple sugars, chymosin, which clots milk protein for cheese making, and pectinesterase, which improves fruit juice clarity.
Genetically modified bacteria are used to produce large amounts of proteins for industrial use. Generally the bacteria are grown to a large volume before the gene encoding the protein is activated. The bacteria are then harvested and the desired protein purified from them. The high cost of extraction and purification has meant that only high value products have been produced at an industrial scale. The majority of these products are human proteins for use in medicine. Many of these proteins are impossible or difficult to obtain via natural methods and they are less likely to be contaminated with pathogens, making them safer. The first medicinal use of GM bacteria was to produce the protein insulin to treat diabetes. Other medicines produced include clotting factors to treat haemophilia,human growth hormone to treat various forms of dwarfism,interferon to treat some cancers, erythropoietin for anemic patients, and tissue plasminogen activator which dissolves blood clots. Outside of medicine they have been used to produce biofuels. There is interest in developing an extracellular expression system within the bacteria to reduce costs and make the production of more products economical.
With greater understanding of the role that the micobiome plays in human health, there is the potential to treat diseases by genetically altering the bacteria to, themselves, be therapeutic agents. Ideas include altering gut bacteria so they destroy harmful bacteria, or using bacteria to replace or increase deficient enzymes or proteins. One research focus is to modify Lactobacillus, bacteria that naturally provide some protection against HIV, with genes that will further enhance this protection. If the bacteria do not form colonies inside the patient, the person must repeatedly ingest the modified bacteria in order to get the required doses. Enabling the bacteria to form a colony could provide a more long-term solution, but could also raise safety concerns as interactions between bacteria and the human body are less well understood than with traditional drugs. There are concerns that horizontal gene transfer to other bacteria could have unknown effects. As of 2018 there are clinical trials underway testing the efficacy and safety of these treatments.
For over a century bacteria have been used in agriculture. Crops have been inoculated with Rhizobia (and more recently Azospirillum) to increase their production or to allow them to be grown outside their original habitat. Application of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and other bacteria can help protect crops from insect infestation and plant diseases. With advances in genetic engineering, these bacteria have been manipulated for increased efficiency and expanded host range. Markers have also been added to aid in tracing the spread of the bacteria. The bacteria that naturally colonise certain crops have also been modified, in some cases to express the Bt genes responsible for pest resistance. Pseudomonas strains of bacteria cause frost damage by nucleating water into ice crystals around themselves. This led to the development of ice-minus bacteria, that have the ice-forming genes removed. When applied to crops they can compete with the ice-plus bacteria and confer some frost resistance.
Other uses for genetically modified bacteria include bioremediation, where the bacteria are used to convert pollutants into a less toxic form. Genetic engineering can increase the levels of the enzymes used to degrade a toxin or to make the bacteria more stable under environmental conditions.Bioart has also been created using genetically modified bacteria. In the 1980s artist Jon Davis and geneticist Dana Boyd converted the Germanic symbol for femininity (?) into binary code and then into a DNA sequence, which was then expressed in Escherichia coli. This was taken a step further in 2012, when a whole book was encoded onto DNA. Paintings have also been produced using bacteria transformed with fluorescent proteins.
Viruses are often modified so they can be used as vectors for inserting genetic information into other organisms. This process is called transduction and if successful the recipient of the introduced DNA becomes a GMO.
In 2017 researchers genetically modified a virus to express spinach defensin proteins. The virus was injected into orange trees to combat citrus greening disease that had reduced orange production 70% since 2005.
As of 2016 two genetically modified yeasts involved in the fermentation of wine have been commercialised. One has increased malolactic fermentation efficiency, while the other prevents the production of dangerous ethyl carbamate compounds during fermentation.
Transgenic plants have been engineered for scientific research, to create new colours in plants, and to create different crops.
In research, plants are engineered to help discover the functions of certain genes. One way to do this is to knock out the gene of interest and see what phenotype develops. Another strategy is to attach the gene to a strong promoter and see what happens when it is over expressed. A common technique used to find out where the gene is expressed is to attach it to GUS or a similar reporter gene that allows visualisation of the location.'
After thirteen years of collaborative research, an Australian company - Florigene, and a Japanese company - Suntory, created a blue rose (actually lavender or mauve) in 2004. The genetic engineering involved three alterations - adding two genes, and interfering with another. One of the added genes was for the blue plant pigment delphinidin cloned from the pansy. The researchers then used RNA interference (RNAi) technology to depress all color production by endogenous genes by blocking a crucial protein in color production, called dihydroflavonol 4-reductase (DFR), and adding a variant of that protein that would not be blocked by the RNAi but that would allow the delphinidin to work. The roses are sold in Japan, the United States, and Canada. Florigene has also created and sells lavender-colored carnations that are genetically engineered in a similar way.
Simple plants and plant cells have been genetically engineered for production of biopharmaceuticals in bioreactors as opposed to cultivating plants in open fields. Work has been done with duckweed Lemna minor, the algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and the moss Physcomitrella patens. An Israeli company, Protalix, has developed a method to produce therapeutics in cultured transgenic carrot and tobacco cells. Protalix and its partner, Pfizer, received FDA approval to market its drug Elelyso, a treatment for Gaucher's disease, in 2012.
Genetically modified crops (GM crops, or biotech crops) are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering techniques. In most cases the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species. Examples in food crops include resistance to certain pests, diseases, or environmental conditions, reduction of spoilage, or resistance to chemical treatments (e.g. resistance to a herbicide), or improving the nutrient profile of the crop. Examples in non-food crops include production of pharmaceutical agents, biofuels, and other industrially useful goods, as well as for bioremediation.
Farmers have widely adopted GM technology. Between 1996 and 2013, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops increased by a factor of 100, from 17,000 square kilometers (4,200,000 acres) to 1,750,000 km2 (432 million acres). 10% of the world's croplands were planted with GM crops in 2010. In the US, by 2014, 94% of the planted area of soybeans, 96% of cotton and 93% of corn were genetically modified varieties. In recent years, GM crops expanded rapidly in developing countries. In 2013, approximately 18 million farmers grew 54% of worldwide GM crops in developing countries.
Cisgenesis, sometimes also called intragenesis, is a product designation for a category of genetically engineered plants. A variety of classification schemes have been proposed that order genetically modified organisms based on the nature of introduced genotypical changes rather than the process of genetic engineering.
While some genetically modified plants are developed by the introduction of a gene originating from distant, sexually incompatible species into the host genome, cisgenic plants contain genes that have been isolated either directly from the host species or from sexually compatible species. The new genes are introduced using recombinant DNA methods and gene transfer. Some scientists hope that the approval process of cisgenic plants might be simpler than that of proper transgenics, but it remains to be seen.
Genetically modified organisms have been proposed to aid conservation of plant species threatened by extinction. Many trees face the threat of invasive plants and diseases, such as the emerald ash borer in North American and the fungal disease, Ceratocystis platani, in European plane trees. A suggested solution to increase the resilience of threatened tree species is to genetically modify individuals by transferring resistant genes.Papaya trees are an example of a species that was successfully conserved using genetic modification. The papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) devastated papaya trees in Hawaii in the twentieth century until transgenic papaya plants were given pathogen-derived resistance.
However, genetic modification for conservation in plants remains mainly speculative and further experimentation is needed before the technique can be widely implemented. A main concern with using genetic modification for conservation purposes is that a transgenic species may no longer bear enough resemblance to the original species to truly claim that the original species is being conserved. Instead, the transgenic species may be genetically different enough to be considered a new species, thus diminishing the conservation worth of genetic modification.
Genetically modified mammals are an important category of genetically modified organisms.Ralph L. Brinster and Richard Palmiter developed the techniques responsible for transgenic mice, rats, rabbits, sheep, and pigs in the early 1980s, and established many of the first transgenic models of human disease, including the first carcinoma caused by a transgene. The process of genetically engineering animals is a slow, tedious, and expensive process. However, new technologies are making genetic modifications easier and more precise.
The first transgenic (genetically modified) animal was produced by injecting DNA into mouse embryos then implanting the embryos in female mice.
Genetically modified animals currently being developed can be placed into six different broad classes based on the intended purpose of the genetic modification:
Genetically modified (genetically engineered) animals are becoming more vital to the discovery and development of cures and treatments for many serious diseases. By altering the DNA or transferring DNA to an animal, we can develop certain proteins that may be used in medical treatment. Stable expressions of human proteins have been developed in many animals, including sheep, pigs, and rats. Human-alpha-1-antitrypsin, which has been tested in sheep and is used in treating humans with this deficiency and transgenic pigs with human-histo-compatibility have been studied in the hopes that the organs will be suitable for transplant with less chances of rejection.
Scientists have genetically engineered several organisms, including some mammals, to include green fluorescent protein (GFP), first observed in the jellyfish, Aequorea victoria in 1962, for medical research purposes (Chalfie, Shimoura, and Tsien were awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 2008 for the discovery and development of GFP). For example, fluorescent pigs have been bred to study human organ transplants (xenotransplantation), regenerating ocular photoreceptor cells, and other topics. In 2011 a Japanese-American team created green-fluorescent cats to find therapies for HIV/AIDS and other diseases as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is related to HIV.
In 2009, scientists in Japan announced that they had successfully transferred a gene into a primate species (marmosets) and produced a stable line of breeding transgenic primates for the first time. Their first research target for these marmosets was Parkinson's disease, but they were also considering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Huntington's disease.
Within the field known as pharming, intensive research has been conducted to develop transgenic animals that produce biotherapeutics. On 6 February 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first human biological drug produced from such an animal, a goat. The drug, ATryn, is an anticoagulant which reduces the probability of blood clots during surgery or childbirth. It is extracted from the goat's milk.
Some animals are also genetically modified so that they can provide organs that are suitable and safe to transplant into humans (xenotransplants). An example are pigs that are genetically modified so that their organs can no longer carry retroviruses (which can pose a danger to humans, when transplanted into them). Other genetically modified pigs have had alpha galactosidase transferase knocked out and fortified with hCD46 and the hTM molecule. Pig lungs from genetically modified pigs for instance are already being considered for transplantation into humans. Besides use of genetic modification to allow the providing of safer animal organs for transplantation, genetic modification can also be used to allow the animal to grow human organs inside their body. Such animals, which are hence composed of a mixture of cells from more than one species, are called "chimeras" One project, undertaken by Pablo Ross of the University of California, involves the growing of a human pancreas inside a pig.
Enviropig was a genetically enhanced line of Yorkshire pigs in Canada created with the capability of digesting plant phosphorus more efficiently than conventional Yorkshire pigs. The project ended in 2012. These pigs produced the enzyme phytase, which breaks down the indigestible phosphorus, in their saliva. The enzyme was introduced into the pig chromosome by pronuclear microinjection. With this enzyme, the animal is able to digest cereal grain phosphorus. The use of these pigs would reduce the potential of water pollution since they excrete from 30 to 70.7% less phosphorus in manure depending upon the age and diet. The lower concentrations of phosphorus in surface runoff reduces algal growth, because phosphorus is the limiting nutrient for algae. Because algae consume large amounts of oxygen, it can result in dead zones for fish.
In 2011, Chinese scientists generated dairy cows genetically engineered with genes from human beings to produce milk that would be the same as human breast milk. This could potentially benefit mothers who cannot produce breast milk but want their children to have breast milk rather than formula. Aside from milk production, the researchers claim these transgenic cows to be identical to regular cows. Two months later scientists from Argentina presented Rosita, a transgenic cow incorporating two human genes, to produce milk with similar properties as human breast milk. In 2012, researchers from New Zealand also developed a genetically engineered cow that produced allergy-free milk.
Goats have been genetically engineered to produce milk with strong spiderweb-like silk proteins in their milk.
Gene therapy, uses genetically modified viruses to deliver genes which can cure disease in humans. Although gene therapy is still relatively new, it has had some successes. It has been used to treat genetic disorders such as severe combined immunodeficiency, and Leber's congenital amaurosis. Treatments are also being developed for a range of other currently incurable diseases, such as cystic fibrosis,sickle cell anemia,Parkinson's disease,cancer,diabetes,heart disease and muscular dystrophy.
Genetically modified organisms have been used to conserve European wild rabbits in the Iberian peninsula and Australia. In both cases, the genetically modified organism used was a myxoma virus, but for opposite purposes: to protect the endangered population in Europe with immunizations and to regulate the overabundant population in Australia with contraceptives.
In the Iberian peninsula, the European wild rabbit population has experienced a sharp decline from viral diseases and overhunting. To protect the species from viral diseases, the myxoma virus was genetically modified to immunize the rabbits. The European wild rabbit population in Australia faces the opposite problem: lack of natural predators has made the introduced species invasive. The same myxoma virus was genetically modified to lower fertility in the Australian rabbit population.
Genetically modified fish are used for scientific research and as pets, and are being considered for use as food and as aquatic pollution sensors.
GM fish are widely used in basic research in genetics and development. Two species of fish, zebrafish and medaka, are most commonly modified because they have optically clear chorions (membranes in the egg), rapidly develop, and the 1-cell embryo is easy to see and microinject with transgenic DNA.
The GloFish is a patented brand of genetically modified (GM) fluorescent zebrafish with bright red, green, and orange fluorescent color. Although not originally developed for the ornamental fish trade, it became the first genetically modified animal to become publicly available as a pet when it was introduced for sale in 2003. They were quickly banned for sale in California.
GM fish have been developed with promoters driving an over-production of "all fish" growth hormone for use in the aquaculture industry to increase the speed of development and potentially reduce fishing pressure on wild stocks. This has resulted in dramatic growth enhancement in several species, including salmon,trout and tilapia.AquaBounty Technologies, a biotechnology company working on bringing a GM salmon to market, claims that their GM AquAdvantage salmon can mature in half the time as wild salmon. AquaBounty applied for regulatory approval to market their GM salmon in the US, and was approved in November 2015. On 25 November 2013 Canada approved commercial scale production and export of GM Salmon eggs but they are not approved for human consumption in Canada.
Several academic groups have been developing GM zebrafish to detect aquatic pollution. The lab that originated the GloFish discussed above originally developed them to change color in the presence of pollutants, to be used as environmental sensors. A lab at University of Cincinnati has been developing GM zebrafish for the same purpose, as has a lab at Tulane University.
Genetically modified frogs are used for scientific research and are widely used in basic research including genetics and early development. Two species of frog, Xenopus laevis and Xenopus tropicalis, are most commonly used.
In biological research, transgenic fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) are model organisms used to study the effects of genetic changes on development. Fruit flies are often preferred over other animals due to their short life cycle, low maintenance requirements, and relatively simple genome compared to many vertebrates.
In 2010, scientists created "malaria-resistant mosquitoes" in the laboratory. The World Health Organization estimated that malaria killed almost one million people in 2008. Genetically modified male mosquitoes containing a lethal gene have been developed to combat the spread of dengue fever and the Zika virus.Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the single most important carrier of dengue fever and the Zika virus, were reduced by 80% in a 2010 trial of these GM mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands and by 90% in a 2015 trial in Bahia, Brazil. In comparison, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District has achieved only 30-60% population reduction with traps and pesticide spraying. In 2016 FDA approved a genetically modified mosquito intervention for Key West, Florida. UK firm Oxitec proposed the release of millions of modified male (non-biting) mosquitoes to compete with wild males for mates. The males are engineered so that their offspring die before maturing, helping to eradicate mosquito-borne disease. Final approval was to be based on a local referendum to be held in November.[needs update] Andrea Crisanti, a molecular biologist at Imperial College in London is working on ways to stop the A. gambiae mosquito from transmitting disease.
A strain of Pectinophora gossypiella (Pink bollworm) has been genetically engineered to express a red fluorescent protein. This allows researchers to monitor bollworms that have been sterilized by radiation and released to reduce bollworm infestation. The strain has been field tested for over three years and has been approved for release.
Cnidaria such as Hydra and the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis are attractive model organisms to study the evolution of immunity and certain developmental processes. An important technical breakthrough was the development of procedures for generation of stable transgenic hydras and sea anemones by embryo microinjection.
The regulation of genetic engineering concerns the approaches taken by governments to assess and manage the risks associated with the use of genetic engineering technology and the development and release of genetically modified organisms (GMO), including genetically modified crops and genetically modified fish. There are differences in the regulation of GMOs between countries, with some of the most marked differences occurring between the USA and Europe. Regulation varies in a given country depending on the intended use of the products of the genetic engineering. For example, a crop not intended for food use is generally not reviewed by authorities responsible for food safety. The European Union differentiates between approval for cultivation within the EU and approval for import and processing. While only a few GMOs have been approved for cultivation in the EU a number of GMOs have been approved for import and processing. The cultivation of GMOs has triggered a debate about the market for GMOs in Europe. Depending on the coexistence regulations, incentives for cultivation of GM crops differ.
There is controversy over GMOs, especially with regard to their use in producing food. The dispute involves buyers, biotechnology companies, governmental regulators, nongovernmental organizations, and scientists. The key areas of controversy related to GMO food are whether GM food should be labeled, the role of government regulators, the effect of GM crops on health and the environment, the effect on pesticide resistance, the impact of GM crops for farmers, and the role of GM crops in feeding the world population. In 2014, sales of products that had been labeled as non-GMO grew 30 percent to $1.1 billion.
There is a scientific consensus that currently available food derived from GM crops poses no greater risk to human health than conventional food, but that each GM food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction. Nonetheless, members of the public are much less likely than scientists to perceive GM foods as safe. The legal and regulatory status of GM foods varies by country, with some nations banning or restricting them, and others permitting them with widely differing degrees of regulation.
No reports of ill effects have been proven in the human population from ingesting GM food. Although labeling of GMO products in the marketplace is required in many countries, it is not required in the United States and no distinction between marketed GMO and non-GMO foods is recognized by the US FDA. In a May 2014 article in The Economist it was argued that, while GM foods could potentially help feed 842 million malnourished people globally, laws such as the one passed in Vermont, to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients, could have the unintended consequence of interrupting the process of spreading GM technologies to impoverished countries that suffer with food security problems.
The Organic Consumers Association, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, and Greenpeace stated that risks have not been adequately identified and managed, and they have questioned the objectivity of regulatory authorities. Some health groups say there are unanswered questions regarding the potential long-term impact on human health from food derived from GMOs, and propose mandatory labeling or a moratorium on such products. Concerns include contamination of the non-genetically modified food supply, effects of GMOs on the environment and nature, the rigor of the regulatory process, and consolidation of control of the food supply in companies that make and sell GMOs, or concerns over the use of herbicides with glyphosate.
In order to address some of these concerns GMOs have been developed with traits to help control their spread. This includes bacteria modified to depend on nutrients that cannot be found in nature and developing genetic use restriction technology that causes the second generation of GM plants to be sterile.
The privatization of GM patenting is controversial because once genetic sequences are patented, farmers of GM foods are often forced to pay fees for their harvest. One example is from 1998, when RiceTec patented a GM version of basmati rice. Due to the World Trade Organization's bans on "barriers" to trade, it was prohibited for GMOs to be labeled as such. Though RiceTec illegally accessed the Filipino genetic data bank that made their discoveries possible and therefore patentable, and the genes were copied from basmati rice already being grown in the Philippines, these GM seeds were sold throughout the region, and Filipino farmers were fined for harvesting a plant they had been growing for free previously.
We have reviewed the scientific literature on GE crop safety for the last 10 years that catches the scientific consensus matured since GE plants became widely cultivated worldwide, and we can conclude that the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazard directly connected with the use of GM crops.
The literature about Biodiversity and the GE food/feed consumption has sometimes resulted in animated debate regarding the suitability of the experimental designs, the choice of the statistical methods or the public accessibility of data. Such debate, even if positive and part of the natural process of review by the scientific community, has frequently been distorted by the media and often used politically and inappropriately in anti-GE crops campaigns.
Currently available transgenic crops and foods derived from them have been judged safe to eat and the methods used to test their safety have been deemed appropriate. These conclusions represent the consensus of the scientific evidence surveyed by the ICSU (2003) and they are consistent with the views of the World Health Organization (WHO, 2002). These foods have been assessed for increased risks to human health by several national regulatory authorities (inter alia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, the United Kingdom and the United States) using their national food safety procedures (ICSU). To date no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects resulting from the consumption of foods derived from genetically modified crops have been discovered anywhere in the world (GM Science Review Panel). Many millions of people have consumed foods derived from GM plants - mainly maize, soybean and oilseed rape - without any observed adverse effects (ICSU).
There is broad scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops currently on the market are safe to eat. After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of 2 billion acres planted, no adverse health or environmental effects have resulted from commercialization of genetically engineered crops (Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Environmental Impacts Associated with Commercialization of Transgenic Plants, National Research Council and Division on Earth and Life Studies 2002). Both the U.S. National Research Council and the Joint Research Centre (the European Union's scientific and technical research laboratory and an integral part of the European Commission) have concluded that there is a comprehensive body of knowledge that adequately addresses the food safety issue of genetically engineered crops (Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health and National Research Council 2004; European Commission Joint Research Centre 2008). These and other recent reports conclude that the processes of genetic engineering and conventional breeding are no different in terms of unintended consequences to human health and the environment (European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation 2010).
Domingo, José L.; Bordonaba, Jordi Giné (2011). "A literature review on the safety assessment of genetically modified plants" (PDF). Environment International. 37 (4): 734-42. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2011.01.003. PMID 21296423.
In spite of this, the number of studies specifically focused on safety assessment of GM plants is still limited. However, it is important to remark that for the first time, a certain equilibrium in the number of research groups suggesting, on the basis of their studies, that a number of varieties of GM products (mainly maize and soybeans) are as safe and nutritious as the respective conventional non-GM plant, and those raising still serious concerns, was observed. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that most of the studies demonstrating that GM foods are as nutritional and safe as those obtained by conventional breeding, have been performed by biotechnology companies or associates, which are also responsible of commercializing these GM plants. Anyhow, this represents a notable advance in comparison with the lack of studies published in recent years in scientific journals by those companies.
Krimsky, Sheldon (2015). "An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment" (PDF). Science, Technology, & Human Values. 40 (6): 1-32. doi:10.1177/0162243915598381. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 February 2016. Retrieved 2016.
I began this article with the testimonials from respected scientists that there is literally no scientific controversy over the health effects of GMOs. My investigation into the scientific literature tells another story.
Panchin, Alexander Y.; Tuzhikov, Alexander I. (14 January 2016). "Published GMO studies find no evidence of harm when corrected for multiple comparisons". Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 37 (2): 1-5. doi:10.3109/07388551.2015.1130684. ISSN 0738-8551. PMID 26767435.
Here, we show that a number of articles some of which have strongly and negatively influenced the public opinion on GM crops and even provoked political actions, such as GMO embargo, share common flaws in the statistical evaluation of the data. Having accounted for these flaws, we conclude that the data presented in these articles does not provide any substantial evidence of GMO harm.
The presented articles suggesting possible harm of GMOs received high public attention. However, despite their claims, they actually weaken the evidence for the harm and lack of substantial equivalency of studied GMOs. We emphasize that with over 1783 published articles on GMOs over the last 10 years it is expected that some of them should have reported undesired differences between GMOs and conventional crops even if no such differences exist in reality.
Yang, Y.T.; Chen, B. (2016). "Governing GMOs in the USA: science, law and public health". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96 (6): 1851-55. doi:10.1002/jsfa.7523. PMID 26536836.
It is therefore not surprising that efforts to require labeling and to ban GMOs have been a growing political issue in the USA (citing Domingo and Bordonaba, 2011).
Overall, a broad scientific consensus holds that currently marketed GM food poses no greater risk than conventional food... Major national and international science and medical associations have stated that no adverse human health effects related to GMO food have been reported or substantiated in peer-reviewed literature to date.
Despite various concerns, today, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Health Organization, and many independent international science organizations agree that GMOs are just as safe as other foods. Compared with conventional breeding techniques, genetic engineering is far more precise and, in most cases, less likely to create an unexpected outcome.
The EU, for example, has invested more than EUR300 million in research on the biosafety of GMOs. Its recent report states: "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies." The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.
Pinholster, Ginger (25 October 2012). "AAAS Board of Directors: Legally Mandating GM Food Labels Could "Mislead and Falsely Alarm Consumers"". American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved 2016.
A report issued by the scientific council of the American Medical Association (AMA) says that no long-term health effects have been detected from the use of transgenic crops and genetically modified foods, and that these foods are substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts. (from online summary prepared by ISAAA)" "Crops and foods produced using recombinant DNA techniques have been available for fewer than 10 years and no long-term effects have been detected to date. These foods are substantially equivalent to their conventional counterparts. (from original report by AMA: )
"Report 2 of the Council on Science and Public Health (A-12): Labeling of Bioengineered Foods" (PDF). American Medical Association. 2012. Archived from the original on 7 September 2012. Retrieved 2016.
Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.
Several scientific organizations in the US have issued studies or statements regarding the safety of GMOs indicating that there is no evidence that GMOs present unique safety risks compared to conventionally bred products. These include the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Medical Association. Groups in the US opposed to GMOs include some environmental organizations, organic farming organizations, and consumer organizations. A substantial number of legal academics have criticized the US's approach to regulating GMOs.
Overall finding on purported adverse effects on human health of foods derived from GE crops: On the basis of detailed examination of comparisons of currently commercialized GE with non-GE foods in compositional analysis, acute and chronic animal toxicity tests, long-term data on health of livestock fed GE foods, and human epidemiological data, the committee found no differences that implicate a higher risk to human health from GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts.
Different GM organisms include different genes inserted in different ways. This means that individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods.
GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety 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. Continuous application of safety assessments based on the Codex Alimentarius principles and, where appropriate, adequate post market monitoring, should form the basis for ensuring the safety of GM foods.
These principles dictate a case-by-case premarket assessment that includes an evaluation of both direct and unintended effects.
"Genetically modified foods and health: a second interim statement" (PDF). British Medical Association. March 2004. Retrieved 2016.
In our view, the potential for GM foods to cause harmful health effects is very small and many of the concerns expressed apply with equal vigour to conventionally derived foods. However, safety concerns cannot, as yet, be dismissed completely on the basis of information currently available.
When seeking to optimise the balance between benefits and risks, it is prudent to err on the side of caution and, above all, learn from accumulating knowledge and experience. Any new technology such as genetic modification must be examined for possible benefits and risks to human health and the environment. As with all novel foods, safety assessments in relation to GM foods must be made on a case-by-case basis.
Members of the GM jury project were briefed on various aspects of genetic modification by a diverse group of acknowledged experts in the relevant subjects. The GM jury reached the conclusion that the sale of GM foods currently available should be halted and the moratorium on commercial growth of GM crops should be continued. These conclusions were based on the precautionary principle and lack of evidence of any benefit. The Jury expressed concern over the impact of GM crops on farming, the environment, food safety and other potential health effects.
The Royal Society review (2002) concluded that the risks to human health associated with the use of specific viral DNA sequences in GM plants are negligible, and while calling for caution in the introduction of potential allergens into food crops, stressed the absence of evidence that commercially available GM foods cause clinical allergic manifestations. The BMA shares the view that that there is no robust evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe but we endorse the call for further research and surveillance to provide convincing evidence of safety and benefit.
The largest differences between the public and the AAAS scientists are found in beliefs about the safety of eating genetically modified (GM) foods. Nearly nine-in-ten (88%) scientists say it is generally safe to eat GM foods compared with 37% of the general public, a difference of 51 percentage points.
Foods derived from GM crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than 15 years, with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health), despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries, the USA.