What do genetic modified organisms (GMOs) look like? This seems like an easy question to answer, but a GMO product’s appearance is based off many things. One is how you define “GMO”. There are different modification techniques used to increase a product’s chance of survival, availability and appeal.
Plants naturally adapt to the world around them
Some modifications happen naturally. There are many organisms that alter themselves in nature to either prosper in their environment or strictly to survive against a predator. The work done by scientists to achieve such alterations is done to improve prosperity and longevity for the organism and for better plant health and production. If you define GMOs this way, a GMO could look like just about any organism.
Good traits are chosen for taller/stronger plants
Many shoppers are aware that some crops are modified to possess a specific trait for production. What they may not know is that this could involve merging an improved trait from one plant’s natural genetic makeup with another’s. The physical characteristics of some GMO products were achieved through this process, known as selective breeding.
Selective breeding allows the desirable traits of a plant, such as its size, to be chosen and passed on to the next generation. Farmers can then consistently grow plants that have the characteristic for generations to come, giving families larger and juicier produce. If you define GMOs this way, just about any fruit or vegetable we eat, our grandparents ate or their grandparents ate could be considered a GMO.
Modifications strengthen food appeal/availability
When you select an apple to buy, what do you look at? Probably its color and physical appearance. Certain kinds of apples are modified to extend the longevity of their color. But color is not the only trait that can be altered through genetic modification.
Plants also can be engineered to resist drought or frost and to have shorter growing seasons. This means production can spread to areas that may be colder or drier than the historical growing zones. Crops such as canola are now grown in new areas to meet the world demand for canola oil. Corn also is increasingly demanded each year and a substantial amount of land is needed to meet this need — genetic modification gives corn more places to grow. When you define GMOs this way, they look like much of the produce you eat year-round.
Most farms across North America grow some sort of product that has been modified. Many of these farmers are parents or grandparents of consumers like you and me. Food and what they feed their families is precious to them, and many of the crops they grow came from a modified seed. Feeding the world is not sustainable without these specialized crops and those who produce them.
To learn more about GMOs and seed improvement techniques, check out these blog posts: How Seed Improvements Built the Breadth of Your Produce Options
; How Are GMOs Made?
Jenn Rasmussen, B.Sc CCA AIT, grew up on a grain farm in southern Alberta. She received her degree in agriculture in 2013 and has worked in most agriculture sectors. This is her second season at Dow AgroSciences but her 5th year in hybrid canola and her 10th year working in the agriculture industry.