How is food genetically modified?

Explore the production of human-made food perfection that takes place in science labs

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The majority of what we eat has been sourced from farms and factories which breed and produce especially for the food industry. For centuries humans have been manipulating the outcome and appeal of food sources by changing traits. Selecting the ideal features, people have systematically created many combinations of favourable features in food that would not naturally have occurred.

Genetic modification is one way of ensuring our food has the desired outcome, in a precise and scientific procedure. Previous selective breeding methods relied on luck in some parts of the process, but for this more advanced technique, an organism’s DNA structure is cut and modified in a more direct act. This closely controls the outcome and standard of produce. 

In order to grow food that is best suited to its environment while incorporating the best traits, scientists look to naturally thriving organisms. Taking the advantageous aspects of their DNA, these are incorporated into mass food production and the creation of crop perfection. Experimenting with new varieties, genetically engineered foods can increase flavour and nutrition, while also protecting the organism against disease. Created in laboratories, scientists play with the combinations of genes in various food sources for an end result that is superior to natural qualities.

But are there any negative impacts of food produced in this way? Over the years many have raised concerns over whether growth and consumption of these foods are bad for our health and that of the environment. Altering nature’s course can introduce beneficial aspects to each food source, but it is also important to acknowledge where the method could have downfalls. Some believe modified foods could increase the likelihood of allergic reactions in those who eat them, as well as justifying the creation of more toxic herbicides and pesticides by chemical companies to be used on resistant crops.

Forced evolution 

How favourable genes are passed into plants

This article was originally published in How It Works issue 134, written by Ailsa Harvey 

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