As the year starts to wind down many of us are going to be traveling. Everyone needs to get to mom’s house or grandmas for their big Christmas dinner. This is a blessed time of year where we devote time to friends, family and food. Since all of us will be enjoying lots of different foods I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about it. Genetically modified organism (GMO) food to be specific. Some of you will care, some of you won’t and some of you will call the office to call me crazy. I hope after today when you’re eating that delicious creamed corn or mashed potatoes you’ll appreciate the science that went into GMO’s that made them possible.
There are simply too many crops that are GMO to talk about them all so we will just focus on two. Before we can jump into that we need to layout the facts on what a GMO is. A GMO is an organism that has had its DNA altered in a way that makes its more successful. There are certain genes that simply can not be bred into an organism through traditional methods. However, scientists are able to manipulate genes within a lab and add them to seeds. These genes typically give crops an advantage such as insect defense, disease resistance and many more. These genes have no effect on quality or safety and make the crop more suitable for planting.
One of the biggest advancements in agriculture was the Bt gene. Bt or bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterium that survives in the soil. Part of this bacterium’s genes makes it toxic to insect pest, making it very desirable for agriculture. Today the Bt gene has been put in a variety of crops such as corn, cotton and potatoes. When pest try to eat the crop, they ingest the Bt gene and die, leaving the crop protected. This advancement has saved farmers untold amounts of money and increased yield and crop quality.
There are ways to genetically modify plants other than adding genes, such as turning some “off”. When a gene is “turned off” it means that crop will not produce certain characteristics that in turn provide us with a desired outcome. A good example is in potatoes, where the gene for producing excess amounts of the amino acid, asparagine, has been shut off. For many people that doesn’t mean a whole lot but when potatoes are fried, asparagine is converted into a compound known to be a carcinogen called acrylamide. Simply put, GMO technology has made potatoes safer to cook and eat. This Christmas when you sit down for dinner and look at your food I hope it’s different this year. You can confidently eat knowing that scientist, farmers and researchers have helped create the safest food possible for you to enjoy. Merry Christmas!