For the Beginner

Starting with the basics.

What is a GMO?

“GMO” stands for “genetically modified organism.” The technology used to genetically modify an organism is referred to as genetic engineering, and an organism that has been modified in this way is called genetically engineered (GE).

The genetic engineering process typically entails isolating DNA (genetic material) from one organism (an animal, plant, virus, or bacteria), inserting it into the DNA of another organism, and ensuring that the traits associated with the inserted genes are expressed in the modified organism.

Crops that have been modified to express new traits via genetic engineering are also called “transgenic.” So far, GE crop plants have been the source of virtually all GMOs for sale as food or food ingredients in US grocery stores. However, a GE animal, the AquaAdvantage salmon, was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is not available in grocery stores at this time.

Are GMOs different from conventional crossbreeding?

Important differences distinguish genetic engineering from conventional breeding. In conventional crop crossbreeding, also called hybridization, two different strains of the same, or closely related, plant species cross-pollinate, thereby sharing their DNA, and this produces offspring that contain genes from each parent.

The mature seeds from the crossed plants are, in turn, planted and grown out. Plant breeders then select the offspring displaying the most desirable combination of traits. Genes from other organisms that are not sexually compatible with the crop, such as animals or bacteria, are not involved.

GMO Crops Grown in the US

Percentage of each crop that is GMO

%

CORN

%

CANOLA

%

SOY

%

COTTON


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