Across Regions

GMOs 101: MSU researchers explain the basics of genetically modified organisms

An online search for “GMO” returns more than 88 million results — a tangled mess of frightening images, dense data, skepticism, insulting comments and conflicting claims and counterclaims. For the average consumer, separating reputable sources from propaganda is tough, if not impossible.

What is a genetically modified organism, or GMO?

Even the answer to the question can be controversial.

At its most basic, genetic modification is the process by which changes occur in an organism’s genome. Nature is perpetually modifying the genetics of every organism in an effort to help the organism adapt to its changing environment.

“It’s important to understand that all organisms — not just those that are the basis of foods — are genetically modified in some way, shape or form,” says Brad Day, a professor and associate department chair for research in Michigan State University’s Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences. “They are genetically modified by persisting in the environment. Radiation from the sun can induce changes in the genome, for example.”

“Genetic engineering is a technology used in several disciplines, but food has been by far the most controversial [use],” says Day. “Changes in the genome may include input traits — something that helps the grower manage the crop better in response to insects, diseases or weeds. There are also output traits — things that might improve yield, delay flowering times or enhance a plant’s ability to produce a nutritional element such as a vitamin.”

Read this insightful and extensive article online in Futures, a magazine produced by Michigan State University AgBioResearch. Author: Cameron Rudolph