GMOs explained



Like many other people who hold a degree in science, I look at people who are currently upset about GMO products with pity and disdain. They don’t know what it is, but they’re willing to call it evil for whatever reason.

GMO stands for genetically modified organism, which is essentially any organism (plant, animal, amoeba, etc.) that has had its DNA modified in some way. DNA are the blueprints of a living cell that in turn produce the RNA that produces the proteins that make up the useful bits of the cell itself.

What you have to realize is that DNA is not static - two living organisms of the same species can have differences within their DNA (this is why you may have blue eyes and brown hair whereas your siblings may not). DNA is also easily mutable - atmospheric radiation can alter it, as do millions of other conditions, including “mistakes” during replication. We call these modifications mutations, and they are a natural part of life.

We’ve been mutating our own plant crops and livestock for thousands of years by selecting desirable natural mutations for breeding. Say, for example, you notice that a small portion of your corn crop seems to have excellent resistance to wet periods, whereas the rest of your crop often dies during extended wet periods……what do you do? Well, you concentrate on propagating that one portion of your corn crop that is resistant to wet periods.

The reason that that particular corn crop is resistant to wet periods is because a mutation of the DNA led to a different protein (or more) that provided that ability. Today, we have the ability to understand the protein that causes this resistance to wet periods, as well as the ability to inject the DNA blueprint to produce it within other corn plants (creating a GMO corn plant that is resistant to wet periods).

Even without human intervention, in a wet environment, that mutated corn plant would spread and dominate the field within a few hundred years or so due to natural selection. With selective farming techniques, it would dominate the field within a dozen years or so. And by modifying the DNA of other corn plants today to create a GMO, we can do it within a week.

So, what’s the difference between natural selection, selective farming, and GMOs on a cellular basis? Nothing. The difference is in how fast we can get the benefit of the desirable trait. We have better tasting, durable crops today that have a high yield because of GMOs.

Unfortunately, there are no proteins that trigger ignorance in the human condition (it’s a learned trait) - if there were, however, we could eliminate public fear of GMOs within a single generation ;-)