What is a Genetically Modified Organism?
A GMO is a plant or animal that has been genetically altered by scientists to improve its ability to grow in non-native environments, resist pests, tolerate extreme weather conditions, produce more food (like milk in cows), or show other desired traits. In other words, a GMO is a new version of a food plant or animal created by scientists through genetic engineering (GE) techniques. These techniques are used to insert genes into or delete genes out of plant or animal DNA. Scientists have used GE technology to create plants, animals, and bacteria with biological characteristics that would never occur in the natural world—such as a tomato with an anti-freeze fish gene designed to resist cold temperatures, or corn plants with a bacterial gene that tolerates increased herbicide use. Genetic engineering differs from what’s known as traditional breeding, which includes techniques such as hybridization and selective breeding. One hybrid plant is the boysenberry, a cross between a raspberry, blackberry, and sometimes loganberry. Examples of selective breeding include mating only the healthiest beef cattle or saving the seeds of only the tastiest, most pest-resistant carrots for next year’s crop. These traditional breeding techniques have been a central part of agriculture for 10,000 years and have been used to domesticate and increase yields of virtually every plant and animal used in agriculture today.
History of Genetic Engineering
The Timeline of Genetic Engineering from Prehistoric times to the year 2000
Before genetic engineering:
Prehistoric times to 1900
Gatherers find food from plants they find in nature, and farmers plant seeds saved from domesticated crops. Foods are manipulated through the use of yeast and fermentation. Some naturalists and farmers begin to recognize "hybrids," plants produced through natural breeding between related varieties of plants.