Genetically modified organism

Genetically modified organism
GloFish, the first genetically modified animal to be sold as a pet

A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. These techniques, generally known as recombinant DNA technology, use DNA molecules from different sources, which are combined into one molecule to create a new set of genes. This DNA is then transferred into an organism, giving it modified or novel genes. Transgenic organisms, a subset of GMOs, are organisms which have inserted DNA that originated in a different species.



Genetic modification involves the insertion or deletion of genes. When genes are inserted, they usually come from a different species, which is a form of horizontal gene transfer. In nature this can occur when exogenous DNA penetrates the cell membrane for any reason. To do this artificially may require attaching the genes to a virus or just physically inserting the extra DNA into the nucleus of the intended host with a very small syringe, or with very small particles fired from a gene gun.[1] However, other methods exploit natural forms of gene transfer, such as the ability of Agrobacterium to transfer genetic material to plants,[2] or the ability of lentiviruses to transfer genes to animal cells.[3]


The general principle of producing a GMO is to add new genetic material into an organism's genome. This is called genetic engineering and was made possible through the discovery of DNA and the creation of the first recombinant bacteria in 1973; an existing bacterium E. coli expressing an exogenic Salmonella gene.[4] This led to concerns in the scientific community about potential risks from genetic engineering, which were first discussed in depth at the Asilomar Conference in 1975. One of the main recommendations from this meeting was that government oversight of recombinant DNA research should be established until the technology was deemed safe.[5][6] Herbert Boyer then founded the first company to use recombinant DNA technology, Genentech, and in 1978 the company announced creation of an E. coli strain producing the human protein insulin.[7]

In 1986, field tests of bacteria genetically engineered to protect plants from frost damage (ice-minus bacteria) at a small biotechnology company called Advanced Genetic Sciences of Oakland, California, were repeatedly delayed by opponents of biotechnology. In the same year, a proposed field test of a microbe genetically engineered for a pest resistance protein by Monsanto Company was dropped.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, guidance on assessing the safety of genetically engineered plants and food emerged from organizations including the FAO and WHO.[8][9][10][11]

Small scale experimental plantings of genetically modified (GM) plants began in Canada and the U.S. in the late 1980s. The first approvals for large scale, commercial cultivation came in the mid 1990s. Since that time, adoption of GM plants by farmers has increased annually.


GMOs are used in biological and medical research, production of pharmaceutical drugs, experimental medicine (e.g. gene therapy), and agriculture (e.g. golden rice). The term "genetically modified organism" does not always imply, but can include, targeted insertions of genes from one species into another. For example, a gene from a jellyfish, encoding a fluorescent protein called GFP, can be physically linked and thus co-expressed with mammalian genes to identify the location of the protein encoded by the GFP-tagged gene in the mammalian cell. Such methods are useful tools for biologists in many areas of research, including those who study the mechanisms of human and other diseases or fundamental biological processes in eukaryotic or prokaryotic cells.

To date the most controversial but also the most widely adopted application of GMO technology is patent-protected food crops which are resistant to commercial herbicides or are able to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant, or stacked trait seeds, which do both. The largest share of the GMO crops planted globally are owned by the US firm Monsanto.[12] In 2007, Monsanto's trait technologies were planted on 246 million acres (1,000,000 km2) throughout the world, a growth of 13 percent from 2006. However, patents on the first Monsanto products to enter the marketplace will begin to expire in 2014, democratizing Monsanto products. In addition, a 2007 report from the European Joint Research Commission predicts that by 2015, more than 40 per cent of new GM plants entering the global marketplace will have been developed in Asia.[13]

In the corn market, Monsanto's triple-stack corn—which combines Roundup Ready 2 weed control technology with YieldGard Corn Borer and YieldGard Rootworm insect control—is the market leader in the United States. U.S. corn farmers planted more than 32 million acres (130,000 km2) of triple-stack corn in 2008,[14] and it is estimated the product could be planted on 56 million acres (230,000 km2) in 2014–2015. In the cotton market, Bollgard II with Roundup Ready Flex was planted on approximately 5 million acres (20,000 km2) of U.S. cotton in 2008.[15]

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), in 2010 approximately 15 million farmers grew biotech crops in 29 countries. Over 90% of the farmers were resource-poor in developing countries.[16] 6.5 million farmers in China and 6.3 million small farmers in India grew biotech crops (mostly Bacillus thuringiensis cotton). The Philippines, South Africa (biotech cotton, maize and soybeans often grown by subsistence women farmers) and another twelve developing countries also grew biotech crops in 2009.[17] 10 million more small and resource-poor farmers may have been secondary beneficiaries of Bt cotton in China.

The global commercial value of biotech crops grown in 2008 was estimated to be US$130 billion.[17]

In the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports on the total area of GMO varieties planted.[18] According to National Agricultural Statistics Service, the states published in these tables represent 81–86 percent of all corn planted area, 88–90 percent of all soybean planted area, and 81–93 percent of all upland cotton planted area (depending on the year).

USDA does not collect data for global area. Estimates are produced by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and can be found in the report, "Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2007".[19]

Transgenic animals are also becoming useful commercially. On February 6, 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.[20]


Testing on GMOs in food and feed is routinely done by molecular techniques like DNA microarrays or qPCR. The test can be based on screening elements (like p35S, tNos, pat, or bar) or event-specific markers for the official GMOs (like Mon810, Bt11, or GT73). The array-based method combines multiplex PCR and array technology to screen samples for different potential GMOs,[21] combining different approaches (screening elements, plant-specific markers, and event-specific markers). The qPCR is used to detect specific GMO events by usage of specific primers for screening elements or event-specific markers.

To avoid any kind of false positive or false negative testing outcome, comprehensive controls for every step of the process is mandatory. A CaMV check is important to avoid false positive outcomes based on virus contamination of the sample.

Transgenic microbes

Bacteria were the first organisms to be modified in the laboratory, due to their simple genetics.[22] These organisms are now used for several purposes, and are particularly important in producing large amounts of pure human proteins for use in medicine.[23]

Genetically modified bacteria are used to produce the protein insulin to treat diabetes.[24] Similar bacteria have been used to produce clotting factors to treat haemophilia,[25] and human growth hormone to treat various forms of dwarfism.[26][27]

Transgenic animals

Some chimeras, like the blotched mouse shown, are created through genetic modification techniques like gene targeting.

Transgenic animals are used as experimental models to perform phenotypic and for testing in biomedical research.[28]

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.

Some examples are: Human-alpha-1-antitrypsin,[29] which has been developed in sheep and is used in treating humans with this deficency 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. Transgenic livestock have been used as bioreactors since the 1990s. Many medicines, including insulin and many immunizations are developed in transgenic animals.[30] In March 2011, the bioactive recombinant Human Lysozyme was expressed in the milk of cloned transgenic cattle. This field is growing rapidly and new pharming uses are being discovered and developed. The extent that trangenic animals will be useful in the medical field as well as other fields is very promising based on results thus far.[31]

Fruit flies

In biological research, transgenic fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) are model organisms used to study the effects of genetic changes on development.[32] 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.[33][34][35] The World Health Organisation estimated that Malaria killed almost one million people in 2008.[36] Genetically modified male mosquitoes containing a lethal gene have been developed in order to combat the spread of Dengue fever.[37] Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the single most important carrier of dengue fever, were reduced by 80% in a 2010 trial of these GM mosquitoes in the Cayman Islands.[38] Between 50 - 100 million people are affected by Dengue fever every year and 40,000 people die from it.[39]


A strain of Pectinophora gossypiella (Pink bollworm) has been developed that contains a fluorescent marker in their DNA. This allows researchers to monitor bollworms that have been sterilized by radiation and released in order to reduce bollworm infestation.[40][39]


Genetically modified mammals are an important category of genetically modified organisms. Transgenic mice are often used to study cellular and tissue-specific responses to disease.

In 1999, scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada created the genetically engineered Enviropig. The Enviropig excretes from 30 to 70.7% less phosphorus in manure depending upon the age and diet.[41] In February 2010, Environment Canada determined that Enviropigs are in compliance with the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and can be produced outside of the research context in controlled facilities where they are segregated from other animals.[42]

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.[43][44] Their first research target for these marmosets was Parkinson's disease, but they were also considering Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Huntington's disease.[45]

In 2011, scientists in China released news that they have introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk. Aside from milk production, the researchers claim these transgenic cows to be identical to regular cows.[46]


Cnidarians such as Hydra and the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis have become 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 stably transgenic hydras and sea anemones by embryo microinjection.[47]


Genetically modified fish have promoters driving an over-production of "all fish" growth hormone. This resulted in dramatic growth enhancement in several species, including salmonids,[48] carps[49] and tilapias.[50]

Gene therapy

Gene therapy,[51] uses genetically modified viruses to deliver genes that can cure disease into human cells. 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,[52] and treatments are being developed for a range of other currently incurable diseases, such as cystic fibrosis,[53] sickle cell anemia,[54] Parkinson's disease[55][56] and muscular dystrophy.[57] Current gene therapy technology only targets the non-reproductive cells meaning that any changes introduced by the treatment can not be transmitted to the next generation. Gene therapy targeting the reproductive cells—so-called "Germ line Gene Therapy"—is very controversial and is unlikely to be developed in the near future.

Transgenic plants

Kenyans examining insect-resistant transgenic Bt corn

Transgenic plants have been engineered to possess several desirable traits, such as resistance to pests, herbicides, or harsh environmental conditions, improved product shelf life, and increased nutritional value. Since the first commercial cultivation of genetically modified plants in 1996, they have been modified to be tolerant to the herbicides glufosinate and glyphosate, to be resistant to virus damage as in Ringspot virus-resistant GM papaya, grown in Hawaii, and to produce the Bt toxin, an insecticide that is non-toxic to mammals.[58]

Most GM crops grown today have been modified with "input traits", which provide benefits mainly to farmers. The GM oilseed crops on the market today offer improved oil profiles for processing or healthier edible oils.[59] The GM crops in development offer a wider array of environmental and consumer benefits such as nutritional enhancement, drought and stress tolerance. GM plants are being developed by both private companies and public research institutions such as CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.[60] Other examples include a genetically modified sweet potato, enhanced with protein and other nutrients, while golden rice, developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has been discussed as a possible cure for Vitamin A deficiency.[61] Scientists at the University of York developed a weed (Arabidopsis thaliana) which contained genes from bacteria that can clean up TNT and RDX explosive contaminants from the soil and it was hoped that this weed would eliminate this pollution.[62] 16 million hectares in the USA (1.5% of the total surface) are estimated to be contaminated with TNT and RDX. However the weed Arabidopsis thaliana was not tough enough to withstand the environment on military test grounds and research is continuing with the University of Washington to develop a tougher native grass.[63]

The coexistence of GM plants with conventional and organic crops has raised significant concern in many European countries. Due to relatively high demand from European consumers for the freedom of choice between GM and non-GM foods, EU regulations require measures to avoid mixing of foods and feed produced from GM crops and conventional or organic crops. European research programs such as Co-Extra, Transcontainer, and SIGMEA are investigating appropriate tools and rules. At the field level, biological containment methods include isolation distance and pollen barriers. Such measures are generally not used in North America because they are very costly and there are no safety-related reasons to employ them.[64]

Cisgenic plants

Cisgenesis, sometimes also called Intragenesis, is a product designation for a category of genetically engineered plants. A variety of classification schemes have been proposed,[65] 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 which 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,[66] but it remains to be seen.[67]


The USA is the largest commercial grower of genetically modified crops in the world.[17] For a genetically modified organism to be approved for release it is assessed by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The USDA evaluated the plants potential to become weeds, the FDA reviewed plants that could enter or alter the food supply and the EPA regulated the genetically modified plants with pesticide properties. Most developed genetically modified plants are reviewed by at least two of the agencies, with many subject to all three.[68][69] Final approval can still be denied by individual counties within each state. In 2004, Mendocino County, California became the first and only county to impose a ban on the "Propagation, Cultivation, Raising, and Growing of Genetically Modified Organisms", the measure passing with a 57% majority.[70]

The European Union (EU) has possibly the most stringent GMO regulations in the world.[71] All GMOs, along with irradiated food, are considered "new food" and subject to extensive, case-by-case, science based food evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The EFSA reports to the European Commission who then draft a proposal which if accepted will be adopted by the EC or passed on to the Council of Agricultural Ministers.[71] There is also a safeguard clause that Member States can invoke to restrict or prohibit the use and/or sale of a GMO within their territory if they have a justifiable reasons to consider that the approved GMO constitutes a risk to human health or the environment.[72] In February 2008 the French government used the safeguard clause to ban the cultivation of MON810 after Senator Jean-François Le Grand, chairman of a committee set up to evaluate biotechnology, said there were "serious doubts" about the safety of the product.[73] In April 2009 German Federal Minister Ilse Aigner announced an immediate halt to cultivation and marketing of MON810 maize under the safeguard clause.[74]

Currently (2010) the only GMO food crop with approval for cultivation in Europe is the GM maize MON810, which gained approval in 1998. On 2 March 2010 a second GMO, a potato called Amflora, was approved for cultivation for industrial applications in the EU by the European Commission[75] and was grown in Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic that year.[76] Co-existence of GM and non-GM crops is regulated by the use of buffer zones and isolation distances between the GM and non-GM crops.[77][77] The regulations concerning the import and sale of GMOs for human and animal consumption grown outside the EU involve providing freedom of choice to the farmers and consumers.[78] Twice GMOs unapproved by the EC have arrived in the EU and been forced to return to their port of origin.[71] The first was in 2006 when a shipment of rice from America containing an experimental GMO variety (LLRice601) not meant for commercialisation arrived at Rotterdam. The second in 2009 when trace amounts of a GMO maize approved in the US were found in a "non-GM" soy flour cargo.[71]

Genetic engineering in Australia is overseen by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR), a Commonwealth Government Authority within the Department of Health and Ageing. The OGTR reports directly to Parliament through a Ministerial Council on Gene Technology and has legislative powers.[79][80] The OGTR decides on license applications for the release of all genetically modified organisms and Food Standards Australia New Zealand regulates any GM food. Individual state governments are able to assess the impact of release on markets and trade and apply further legislation to control approved genetically modified products.[81] In 2007 the New South Wales government extended a blanket moratorium on GM food crops until 2011, but approved GM Canola for commercial cultivation in 2008.[82] GM canola is grown in Western Australia,[83] while South Australia and Tasmania have extended their moratoriums on all genetically modified crops.[82]

Health Canada, under the Food and Drugs Act, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency[84] are responsible for evaluating the safety and nutritional value of genetically modified foods.[85] The committee that reviewed the regulations in 2003 was accused by environmental and citizen groups of not representing the full spectrum of public interests and for being too closely aligned to industry groups.[86] In central and South America Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rico, Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil all grow GM crops. In Argentina the National Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Committee (environmental impact), the National Service of Health and Agrifood Quality (food safety) and the National Agribusiness Direction (effect on trade) assess GM products for release, with the final decision made by the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Fishery and Food.[87] In Brazil the National Biosafety Technical Commission is responsible for assessing environmental and food safety and prepares guidelines for transport, importation and field experiments involving GM products. The Council of Ministers evaluates the commercial and economical issues with release.[87] Mexico's senate passed a law allowing planting and selling of genetically modified cotton and soybean in Mexicoin 2005[88] and in 2009 the government enacted statutory provisions for the regulation of genetically modified maize[89] Mexico is the center of diversity for maize and concerns have been raised about the impact genetically modified maize could have on local strains.[90][91]

GM crops in China go through three phases of field trials (pilot field testing, environmental release testing, and preproduction testing) before they are submitted to the Office of Agricultural Genetic Engineering Biosafety Administration (OAGEBA) for assessment.[92] Producers must apply to OAGEBA at each stage of the field tests. The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology developed the first biosafety regulations for GM products in 1993 and they were updated in 2001.[93] Most of the National Biosafety Committee are involved in biotechnology leading to criticisms that they do not represent a wide enough range of public concerns.[92] India regulators cleared the Bt brinjal, a genetically modified eggplant, for commercialisation in October 2009. Following opposition from some scientists, farmers and environmental groups a moratorium was imposed on its release in February 2010.[94][95] The only other Asian country to currently grow GM crops is the Phillipenes.[96]

In 2010, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) proposed a policy where new GM crops would be scientifically assessed by COMESA. If it was demeed safe for the environmental and human health permission would be granted for the crop to be grown in all 19 member countries, although the final decision would be left to each individual country.[97] In 2010 South Africa was the major grower of genetically modified crops in Africa, with smaller areas planted in Burkina Faso and Egypt.[98] Burkina Faso has established a National Biosafety Agency that regulates GM products with advice from various governmental and non-governmental advisory committees.[99] Kenya passed laws in 2011 which allowed the production and importation of GM crops.[100] The Zambian government rejected a consignment of GMO maize supplied by donors during a famine in 2002 on the basis of the Cartagena Protocol. [101][102]

One of the key issues concerning regulators is whether GM products should be labeled. Labeling can be mandatory up to a threshold GM content level (which varies between countries) or voluntary. A study investigating voluntary labeling in South Africa found that 31% of products labeled as GMO-free had a GM content above 1.0%.[103] In Canada and the USA labeling of GM food is voluntary,[104] while in Europe it all food (including processed food) or feed which contains greater than 0.9% of approved GMOs must be labelled.[71]


Biological process

The use of genetically modified organisms has sparked significant controversy in many areas.[105] Some groups or individuals see the generation and use of GMO as intolerable meddling with biological states or processes that have naturally evolved over long periods of time, while others are concerned about the limitations of modern science to fully comprehend all of the potential negative ramifications of genetic manipulation.[106] Other people see this as a continuation in the role humanity has occupied for thousands of years, modifying the genetics of crops by selecting specimen of crops with the most desirable characteristics as parent for the next generation of crops.[107]


The safety of GMOs in the foodchain has been questioned by some environmental groups, with concerns such as the possibilities that GMOs could introduce new allergens into foods, or contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance.[108] According to a study published in 1999, there was no current evidence to suggest that the processes used to genetically modify food were inherently harmful.[109] However, a number of more recent studies [110][111] have raised concern, and environmental groups still discourage consumption in many countries, claiming that GM foods are unnatural and therefore unsafe.[112] Such concerns have led to the adoption of laws and regulations that require safety testing of any new organism produced for human consumption.[113]

GMOs' proponents note that because of the safety testing requirements imposed on GM foods, the risk of introducing a plant variety with a new allergen or toxin using genetic modification is much smaller than using traditional breeding processes. Transgenesis has less impact on the expression of genomes or on protein and metabolite levels than conventional breeding or plant (non-directed) mutagenesis.[114] An example of an allergenic plant created using traditional breeding is the kiwi.[115] One article calculated that the marketing of GM salmon could reduce the cost of salmon by half, thus increasing salmon consumption and preventing 1,400 deaths from heart attack a year in the United States.[116]

Trade in Europe and Africa

In response to negative public opinion, Monsanto announced its decision to remove their seed cereal business from Europe, and environmentalists crashed a World Trade Organization conference in Cancun that promoted GM foods and was sponsored by Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). Some African nations have refused emergency food aid from developed countries, fearing that the food is unsafe. During a conference in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Kingsley Amoako, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), encouraged African nations to accept genetically modified food and expressed dissatisfaction in the public’s negative opinion of biotechnology.[112]

Agricultural surpluses

Patrick Mulvany, Chairman of the UK Food Group, accused some governments, especially the Bush administration, of using GM food aid as a way to dispose of unwanted agricultural surpluses. The UN blamed food companies and accused them of violating human rights, calling on governments to regulate these profit-driven firms. It is widely believed that the acceptance of biotechnology and genetically modified foods will also benefit rich research companies and could possibly benefit them more than consumers in underdeveloped nations.[112]


While some groups advocate the complete prohibition of GMOs, others call for mandatory labeling of genetically modified food or other products. Other controversies include the definition of patent and property pertaining to products of genetic engineering. According to the documentary Food, Inc. efforts to introduce labeling of GMOs has repeatedly met resistance from lobbyists and politicians affiliated with companies like Monsanto.


Bruce Stutz's article, “Wanted: GM Seeds for Study,” highlights a story of two dozen scientists who spoke out against the research restrictions put forth by companies producing genetically modified (GM) seeds such as DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta. In February 2009, after scientists warned the U.S. Environmental protection Agency (EPA) “that industry influence had made independent analyses of transgenic crops impossible,” the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA) agreed that they “would allow researchers greater freedom to study the effects of GM food crops.” This agreement left many scientists optimistic about the future, but there is little optimism as to whether this agreement has the ability to “alter what has been a research environment rife with obstruction and suspicion.”[117]

Impoverished nations

Some groups believe that impoverished nations will not reap the benefits of biotechnology because they do not have easy access to these developments, cannot afford modern agricultural equipment, and certain aspects of the system revolving around intellectual property rights are unfair to "undeveloped countries". For example, The CGIAR (Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research) is an aid and research organization that has been working to achieve sustainable food security and decrease poverty in undeveloped countries since its formation in 1971. In an evaluation of CGIAR, the World Bank praised its efforts but suggested a shift to genetics research and productivity enhancement. This plan has several obstacles such as patents, commercial licenses, and the difficulty that third world countries have in accessing the international collection of genetic resources and other intellectual property rights that would educate them about modern technology. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has attempted to remedy this problem, but results have been inconsistent. As a result, "orphan crops", such as teff, millets, cowpeas, and indigenous plants, are important in the countries where they are grown, but receive little investment.[118]

Private investments

The development and implementation of policies designed to encourage private investments in research and marketing biotechnology that will meet the needs of poverty-stricken nations, increased research on other problems faced by poor nations, and joint efforts by the public and private sectors to ensure the efficient use of technology developed by industrialized nations have been suggested. In addition, industrialized nations have not tested GM technology on tropical plants, focusing on those that grow in temperate climates, even though undeveloped nations and the people that need the extra food live primarily in tropical climates.[112] Some European scientists are concerned that political factors and ideology prevent unbiased assessment of GM technology in some EU countries, with a negative effect on the whole community.[119]

Transgenic organisms

Another important controversy is the possibility of unforeseen local and global effects as a result of transgenic organisms proliferating. The basic ethical issues involved in genetic research are discussed in the article on genetic engineering.

Some critics have raised the concern that conventionally-bred crop plants can be cross-pollinated (bred) from the pollen of modified plants. Pollen can be dispersed over large areas by wind, animals, and insects. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined Scotts Miracle-Gro $500,000 when modified genetic material from creeping bentgrass, a new golf-course grass Scotts had been testing, was found within close relatives of the same genus (Agrostis)[120] as well as in native grasses up to 21 km (13 mi) away from the test sites, released when freshly cut grass was blown by the wind.[121]

GM proponents point out that outcrossing, as this process is known, is not new. The same thing happens with any new open-pollinated crop variety—newly introduced traits can potentially cross out into neighboring crop plants of the same species and, in some cases, to closely related wild relatives. Defenders of GM technology point out that each GM crop is assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine if there is any risk associated with the outcrossing of the GM trait into wild plant populations. The fact that a GM plant may outcross with a related wild relative is not, in itself, a risk unless such an occurrence has negative consequences. If, for example, an herbicide resistance trait was to cross into a wild relative of a crop plant it can be predicted that this would not have any consequences except in areas where herbicides are sprayed, such as a farm. In such a setting the farmer can manage this risk by rotating herbicides.

The European Union funds research programs such as Co-Extra, that investigate options and technologies on the coexistence of GM and conventional farming. This also includes research on biological containment strategies and other measures to prevent outcrossing and enable the implementation of coexistence.

If patented genes are outcrossed, even accidentally, to other commercial fields and a person deliberately selects the outcrossed plants for subsequent planting then the patent holder has the right to control the use of those crops. This was supported in Canadian law in the case of Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser.

"Terminator" and "traitor"

An often cited controversy is a "Technology Protection" technology dubbed 'Terminator'.[122] This uncommercialized technology would allow the production of first generation crops that would not generate seeds in the second generation because the plants yield sterile seeds. The patent for this so-called "terminator" gene technology is owned by Delta and Pine Land Company and the United States Department of Agriculture. Delta and Pine Land was bought by Monsanto Company in August 2006. Similarly, the hypothetical trait-specific Genetic Use Restriction Technology, also known as 'Traitor' or 'T-GURT', requires application of a chemical to genetically modified crops to reactivate engineered traits.[122][123] This technology is intended both to limit the spread of genetically engineered plants, and to require farmers to pay yearly to reactivate the genetically engineered traits of their crops. Genetic Use Restriction Technology is under development by companies including Monsanto and AstraZeneca.

In addition to the commercial protection of proprietary technology in self-pollinating crops such as soybean (a generally contentious issue), another purpose of the terminator gene is to prevent the escape of genetically modified traits from cross-pollinating crops into wild-type species by sterilizing any resultant hybrids. Some environmentalist groups, while considering outcrossing of GM plants dangerous, felt the technology would prevent re-use of seed by farmers growing such terminator varieties in the developing world and was ostensibly a means to exercise patent claims.[citation needed] However other environmental groups welcomed the terminator gene as a means of preventing GM crops from mixing with natural crops.[citation needed]

Hybrid seeds were commonly used in the developed countries long before the introduction of GM crops. Some hybrid crop seeds cannot be saved, so purchasing new seed every year is already a standard agricultural practice for a majority of farms.

There are technologies evolving which contain the transgene by biological means and still can provide fertile seeds using fertility restorer functions. Such methods are being developed by several EU research programs, among them Transcontainer and Co-Extra.

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