What does the term “GMO” stand for?
GMO is the abbreviation for “genetically modified organism. ”What this describes is the altering of the genes of an organism, which translates to rewriting the instructions for creating the organism.
Why would one do this?
To produce characteristics different from the original version; an example of this is if you were to alter the genes (rewrite the instructions) that create the color of your eyes; you would end up with a different eye color.
In order to fully understand why eating GM (genetically modified) foods is potentially hazardous to your health, (health being defined as freedom from pain and disease created through what you eat, or don’t eat) we need to understand not only HOW they are created but WHAT is being created.
I will now expand on “WHAT” is being created.
From the previous page, “DNA to Proteins,” we now understand that genes are the instructions for creating proteins… So the “WHAT” is being created, are proteins. More accurately, by altering the genes in an organism NEW proteins are being created in the organism.
I have highlighted two statements below …
- "A GMO is a genetically modified organism, meaning that you are altering its genes. When you alter the gene you alter the instructions for creating that organism."
- "The altering or mutation of a gene, which results in the disruption in the function of a protein, can disrupt normal development or cause a medical condition."
The Unnatural Creation of Food
Why is genetic engineering an unnatural way to create food? Scientists take genes from one species and force them into the DNA of other species, for example; scientists have inserted the genes of a flounder fish into the genes of a tomato.
Let me use this example to give a brief explanation as to what is trying to be accomplished. The flounder fish has a gene (an instruction) in its genome to build a protein that allows the fish to survive in cold temperatures. By inserting this gene into the genome of the tomato, the protein responsible for this characteristic could be produced in the tomato. This would enable the tomato to survive colder temperatures and frosts allowing farmers to grow tomatoes in harsher climates; which could also extend the growing season.
Sounds good in theory… Why could this be a problem?
Let’s go back to our description of a gene as a sentence. The sentence, or gene, describes how to create a protein. Genetic modification is in fact, the rewriting of the instruction manual for creating a protein. Additionally each gene codes for MANY proteins, as evidenced by the discovery that there are a far greater number of functional proteins in an organism than the number of genes. While we may know HOW to artificially combine genes of different species, we DO NOT yet know exactly what proteins these new instructions will create; or what impact novel (new) proteins may have on human health.
Remember, proteins are the basic building blocks of LIFE, making up the majority of the cellular structures and performing most of life’s functions. Scientists have made great advances in mapping the genome of many life forms from fungi all the way up to mankind. However, far less is understood and known about the “Proteome;”
which is the name given to describe the collection of proteins in a cell.
Let us revisit the statement from the “Human Genome Program of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science.”
“Unlike the relatively unchanging genome, the dynamic proteome changes from minute to minute inresponse to tens of thousands of intra- and extracellular environmental signals. A protein’s chemistry and behavior are specified by the gene sequence and by the number and identities of other proteins made in the same cell at the same time and with which it associates and reacts. Studies to explore protein structure and activities, known as proteomics, will be the focus of much research for decades to come and will help elucidate the molecular basis of health and disease.”
Sounds infinitely complex doesn’t it? That’s because it IS!!
Don’t forget that all life forms, from a single cell organism to the multicellular organisms (e.g. mankind), have a genome for instructing the building of proteins. This is the same process for the plants that we eat.
However, even though we have yet to fully understand the complex process of protein creation and behavior (which translates to only a partial understanding of how life is created and maintained) companies are redesigning life everyday, affecting the very thing you cannot live without… FOOD!
My goal in this introduction to GMO’s is to dissect the “What” is being created because often when we know “how” to accomplish something we can lose sight of “what” we are creating and importantly how the “what” could influence generations to come or even life as we know it.
There are untold numbers of potential health dangers, there are potentially unimaginable environmental implications and there are many reasons as to “why” the biotech companies like Monsanto are creating these genetically engineered crops… without any invalidation of mankind’s abilities, let us not lose sight of how “little” we still know about the creation of life, at this point in time, and let us not forget that we are “recreating life.”
There are many resources available providing detailed information on genetic engineering, how they create GMO’s, the health and environmental risks, the current genetically modified crops, how to avoid eating genetically engineered foods and how, if you choose, to support global efforts to put an end to the genetic engineering of our food supply.
In the right hand column are links to articles I’ve written drilling down on specific subjects relating to the many facets of genetic engineering. In addition there are links to independent research data, presentations and website links to aid you in deciding what is meaningful for you.
“Recombinant DNA technology faces our society with problems unprecedented not only in the history of science, but of life on Earth. It places in human hands the capacity to redesign living organisms, the products of three billion years of evolution. Such intervention must not be confused with previous intrusions upon the natural order of living organisms: animal and plant breeding…All the earlier procedures worked within single or closely related species…Our morality up to now has been to go ahead without restriction to learn all that we can about nature. Restructuring nature was not part of the bargain…this direction may be not only unwise, but dangerous. Potentially, it could breed new animal and plant diseases, new sources of cancer, novel epidemics."
-Dr. George Wald: Nobel Laureate in Medicine, 1967
“The genetic engineering of plants and animals is looming as one of the greatest and most intractable environmental challenges of the 21st Century. Already, this novel technology has invaded our grocery stores and our kitchen pantries by fundamentally altering some of our most important staple food crops. By being able to take the genetic material from one organism and insert it into the permanent genetic code of another, biotechnologists have engineered numerous novel (new) creations, such as potatoes with bacteria genes, "super" pigs with human growth genes, fish with cattle growth genes, tomatoes with flounder genes, and thousands of other plants, animals and insects. At an alarming rate, these creations are now being patented and released into the environment.”
- The Center for Food Safety