What Are Genetically Modified Organisms?


Quick Answer

Genetically modified organisms are living organisms that have been subjected to genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is used to alter the genetic material of living things to create combinations that do not occur in nature.

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Full Answer

GMOs have a wide range of applications, and are especially prevalent in food production, pharmaceutical drugs and experimental medicine. Genetic engineering differs from selective breeding in that the organism's genes are directly added, removed or manipulated in a laboratory setting. This is done by physically inserting DNA into the nucleus of a host with a very small syringe, with the use of gene guns or electric pulses, or by introducing the new genes to the host by way of a virus.

In agriculture, crops have been genetically engineered to give them enhanced resistance to pests and herbicides. They are also sometimes given added nutritional value, as in the case of golden rice, which is modified to contain high levels of beta-carotene. Genetically engineered micro-organisms are also sometimes used as enzymes for the production of processed foods, including cheese and fruit juice.

In medicine, genetically modified bacteria produce insulin for diabetic patients. Genetically modified animals are also used in medical research, and gene therapy employs genetically modified viruses in an attempt to cure genetic disorders.

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