Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. GMOs can be bacteria, fungi, animals, plants and viruses, with the exception of human beings since there are legal constraints.
All organisms contain genes, which are lengths of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) present in every cell. Genes carry the information necessary to produce the numerous proteins that determine the organism’s particular form and function. Therefore, genes are responsible for the specific characteristics of organisms.
In the past, traditional plant breeders have introduced desired characteristics into a plant by crossing different varieties to mix their genes and thereby alter the genetic make-up. This process is called ‘selective breeding’. Nowadays, research and development have led to a better understanding of the science of genes. In fact, scientists have managed to take out a single gene from the DNA of one organism and insert it into the DNA of another organism to confer the desired traits, such as a plant that is resistant to a specific pest or disease. This transfer is also possible between non-related species.
Common GMOs include agricultural crops that have been genetically modified for greater productivity or for resistance to pests or diseases. Examples of modified crops include soybeans, cotton and maize.
‘Biosafety’ is a term used to describe efforts to reduce and eliminate the potential risks from biotechnology products, including GMOs and their production.