Why do fiery debates rage over the use of genetically modified organisms in our food? Let’s take a brief look at both sides of the argument.
What are GMOs, really? In a nutshell, genes are extracted from the DNA of one organism and inserted into the DNA of another organism to alter it in some way. This is used for a variety of purposes; for example, say that corn carried a gene that made it resistant to a crop disease that commonly threatened potatoes. They would then extract that gene from corn DNA, insert it into some potato DNA, and the resulting potato crop would then be resistant to the crop disease that had previously threatened it. GMOs are typically used to improve and protect our food supply (not to say that there aren't commercial interests involved, but we'll save that one for another day).
So what's the fuss about? The complexity of our bodies and the eco system, and unintended or unknown long-term effects. There are no long term feed studies to demonstrate that GMOs are safe. This may sound trivial, but there was also a time when smoking was touted as good for your health. The process of genes coding proteins is very complex, and inserting a foreign gene into a plant does have the potential for it to eventually create rogue proteins, which could have an echoing effect on the environment, our bodies, and even our own genes.
So there you have it: a VERY brief overview of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
**FUN FACT: The world's oldest GMO is the sweet potato, and it occurred naturally, over 8,000 years ago when genes from a bacterium called Agrobaterium made their way into the DNA of the ancestor of the modern sweet potato. Scientists believe the bacteria helped to produce two hormones that altered it, making it edible.