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Vol.12, Nos.1-2   February 2002

What are Genetically Modified (GM) Organisms and Foods?

Although biotechnology and genetic modification commonly are used interchangeably, GM is a special set of technologies that alter the DNA of such living organisms as animals, plants, or bacteria. Biotechnology, a more general term, refers to using natural living organisms or their components.

Combining DNA from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be “genetically modified,” “genetically engineered,” or “transgenic.” GM products (current or in the pipeline) include medicines and vaccines, foods and food ingredients, feeds, and fibers.

Locating genes for important traits— such as those conferring insect resistance or desired nutrients— is one of the most limiting steps in the GM process. However, genome sequencing and discovery programs for hundreds of different organisms are generating detailed maps along with data-analyzing technologies to understand and use them.

GM crops are grown commercially or in field trials in over 40 countries and on 6 continents. In 2000, about 109.2 million acres were planted with transgenic crops, the principal ones being herbicide- and insecticide-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton, and canola. Other crops grown commercially or field tested are a sweet potato resistant to a virus that could decimate most of the African harvest, rice with increased iron and vitamins that may alleviate chronic malnutrition in Asian countries, and a variety of plants able to survive weather extremes.

On the horizon are bananas that produce human vaccines against infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, fish that mature more quickly, fruit and nut trees that yield years earlier, and plants that produce new plastics with unique properties.

In 2000, countries that grew 99% of the global transgenic crops were the United States (68%), Argentina (23%), Canada (7%), and China (1%). Although growth is expected to plateau in industrialized countries, it is increasing in developing countries. The next decade will see exponential progress in GM product development as researchers gain increasing and unprecedented access to genomic resources that are applicable to organisms beyond the scope of individual projects.

Link to GM Sites: www.ornl.gov/hgmis/elsi/gmfood.html

The electronic form of the newsletter may be cited in the following style:
Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v12n1-2).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.