What is genetically modified food (GM Food) and how is it made?
Genetically modified foods (GM foods) are foods that we genetically modify for our own needs. Before going into the context of GM food, it is not a matter of what the gene is.
The body of all living things is made up of many cells. Each cell contains DNA (Deoxy-ribo Nucleic Acid / DNA). One DNA molecule is made up of two long chains, which are wrapped around each other.
One part of this DNA chain that contains instructions for building a particular protein is called a gene. All the structure, function and evolution of the organism is controlled by the genes inside this DNA. However, they do nothing directly. For this, RNA saves the work with the commander and the protein or the soldiers (see the description of how, here). The fact that the appearance of the son and daughter is similar to that of the parents is also a game of these genes.
In the case of plants, growth, yield, ability to survive in low rainfall, protection from harmful germs, these characteristics are also regulated by genes. Such a feature led to the Green Revolution in the Indian subcontinent in the 1960s. A few years ago, Nobel laureate Norman E. Borlaug discovered the “dwarf trait” of the wheat plant. When a tall wheat tree caught a lot of wheat, the wheat tree would easily overturn under its weight. As a result, a lot of wheat would be wasted in the field. To overcome this, Dr. Borlaug finds dwarf wheat plants whose stems are small, very hard, and yields well. In his discovery, he used artificial insemination as a tool. Then this discovery is also in the rice plant. The application of these discoveries led to the Green Revolution of the 1960s in the Indian subcontinent. Much later research has shown that the “dwarf trait” is actually controlled by genes. But now with the rapid population growth and the decline of agricultural land, the impact of the Green Revolution has diminished. So now we need to find new ways to increase the yield. Genetically modified food (GM food) is a modern way to increase this yield.
The genetic makeup of a plant is modified by inserting genes from another organism (plants, viruses or bacteria) into its DNA. In nature, gene transfer from bacteria to plants or from one tree to another is always happening. In the laboratory, researchers created genetically modified plants in a way controlled by a beneficial bacterium called agrobacterium. One of the characteristics of Agrobacterium is its ability to transfer genes. Simply put, they are a kind of carrier. The genes that control the good traits of plants (such as the dwarf trait gene) that have been discovered so far are the first to be introduced into the cells of Agrobacterium. Then that changed.
The modified agrobacterium is then inserted into the body of the gene to improve one of its properties, so that it can survive the germs or yield more. The picture of the whole process is given below.
However, there are some problems. For example, if a gene is introduced into the body of a plant with the help of Agrobacterium, it is a very lucky event, the penetration of the gene can happen in any cell. As a result, the good effects of genetic modification often diminish. Again, it takes 7-10 years to produce a genetically modified plant with the help of Agrobacterium and market it. And that’s why more advanced technologies, such as gene editing, have arrived. Genetically modified food is now being produced more easily with the help of gene editing.
What is gene editing and how GM foods are made with it?
In simple terms, it’s a lot like editing a document with a word processor. The matter can be better understood by giving an example. Just as you can easily correct a spelling mistake while typing a document using replacement or edit, bad genes can be corrected from a cell by gene editing. Usually, mutations in the genes needed by an organism often result in bad results. Scientists then cut out that naughty gene with a bacterial protein called Cas9 and replaced it with a better gene. The protein called Cas9 is used by bacteria to survive the naughty virus. So what’s the point, this Cas9 is actually a molecular scissor for bacteria, isn’t it?
Researchers have now come up with a way to insert beneficial genes into plants using this Cas9 very easily and in less time. The process is shown in the picture below. It is hoped that this technology will soon be able to produce seeds of crops that will survive in good yielding rice or low rainfall. Creating genetically modified plants using Agrobacterium in the traditional way is a time consuming and costly affair. So genetically modified plants through gene editing have gained tremendous popularity at the moment. In the meantime, several companies have come up with genetically modified mushrooms, high yielding corn and tomatoes. That’s pretty funny, isn’t it? The whole point of making a genetically modified plant by gene editing is to pick it up for another day.
So where is the problem with GM Foods and what is the solution?
GM Foods is not a golden spoon that will solve all our problems. However, it has already been proven that GM food is able to provide food security in many places, including Africa and Asia. It is also true that there are many misconceptions about GM food. The matter can be better understood by giving some examples. For example, many people have the misconception that genetically modified foods mean changing the DNA of viruses or bacteria. A lot of times it is done but the facts are not always like that. Again, many fear that many times if we change the genes of an organism, the results may be bad. For example, the spread of pollen in GM foods can lead to the growth of many weeds. Again, according to many protest groups, GM food can have a bad effect on the body. However, whether this is completely scientifically true has not been proven experimentally and more detailed research is needed. The National Academy of Sciences, USA recently reported that no evidence of adverse effects of GM food on the human body has been found.