Gene Technology: Genetically Modified Crop Plants

Subject: Nutrition
Type: Exploratory Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1277
Topics: Food


Describe the technology

Genetic modification refers to the alteration of gene content of an organism scientifically. Genetically modified crops have their genes altered to enable them bring out the desired characteristics. The main idea is to introduce desired characteristics in the organism so as to increase its productivity and increase resistance to diseases and pests. Gene technology enables modification of endogenous genes and introduction of a gene not native to the plant. The desirable genes introduced into the plant are not necessarily from another plant but they can also be from other living organisms such as pests. Gene technology is an improvement of the traditional conventional breeding techniques that involved sexual crossbreeding of plants over several generations to produce a new breed of plants. The conventional breeding technique took up to 15 years to come up with a new breed (Key, Ma and Drake 2008). On the other hand, gene technology hastens the pace of gene transfer by enabling gene transfer be done within a comparably short time and use other methods non-sexual method of gene transfer. There are two main methods of gene transfer which are: introduction of the gold or tinsel coated DNA into a plan cell using a gene gun and use of bacterium to introduce the desired gene into the plant. 

Discuss what it accomplishes

Gene transfer in plants has enabled production of genetically superior plants with desired characteristics. The genetically modified plants have higher crop yield than the other traditional plants while increasing their resistance to pests and extreme weather conditions. The gene technology has also seen drastic increase in farm output thanks to higher resistance to pests and higher crop yield. In some western countries, gene modification has been used to increase nutritional content of some crop. This is particularly important in developing countries where nutrient deficiency among the population is a common problem thus the introduction of nutrient rich crops can increase nutrient intake in these countries. 

Elaborate on the scientific principles that make this technology possible

The presence of genes in plant cells that carry specific characteristics explains the possibility of genetic modification of plants. The DNA is biological codes contained in the cells of living organisms that carry specific character straits of the given organism. The DNA cells are usually organized in pairs of corresponding chromosomes with each chromosome being inherited from each parent. Thus the entire set of chromosomes is what makes up the organism’s genome. Genomics has enabled scientist to study the whole structure of the DNA, understanding the information on the gene thus understanding the protein structure of the genes (Halford and World Scientific 2012).  Given that the DNA are responsible for programming the cells, alteration of the gene structure leads to alteration of the cell activities in the desired direction. Deletion of undesired gene gets rid of undesirable characteristics in the organism while introduction of a different gene in the organism introduces desired characteristic in the organism for example resistance to draught. 


Discuss the biological principles that underlie this technology

When bacterium is chosen as the preferred method of gene modification, the tumefacien agrobacterium is used in the process. The bacterium is a scientific pathogen known for causing the crown gall disease in susceptible plants. What attracts its use in the gene transfer process is its unique nature of transferring part of its DNA to the plant when it infects it thus the plant portrays the received gene from the bacteria just like its other naturally occurring genes thus the plant develops crown gall. With the understanding of the unique characteristic of this bacterium, scientists were able to develop a new improved breed of the agrobacterium by replacing the crown gall disease causing gene with other desirable genes. The agrobacterium is then used to introduce the new desirable gene into the crop plant in the same manner it was introducing the crown gall disease. The plant thus bearing the newly introduced gene will have its offspring from its cells having the desired introduced gene thus genetic engineering of the plant. 

The other commonly used method of gene modification in crop plants is the use of gene gun to insert desired genes into a plant cell. This is a physical method of genetic modification of plant crops. The technique was discovered by Klein and colleagues who were able to establish the possible physical insertion of naked DNA into plants cells. The naked DNA are coated with microscopic pellets of either gold or tinsel to which the DNA is attached and then physically shot into a plant cell using the gene gun thus introducing the new genes into the plant (National research council 2004). This technique of gene alteration is preferred for gene alteration in plants not naturally transformed by agrobacterium.      

Social and ethical implications

There are many social and ethical issues surrounding the genetically modified crop plants. The controversy surrounding genetically modified crop plants has led to the control of production of genetically modified food by various governments. At the center of the controversy is the potential effect of the plants on human health after being consumed. Currently, people have been consuming the genetically modified food products and there is no single case of reported health related complication. On the contrary, the improved food crop enables people to have better health through the increased nutrient content in these crops thus avoiding malnutrition. Another area of controversy is concerned with the religious belief where introducing of new DNA in plants is not only taken as playing the role of God but also is considered to introduce religious impurities into plants. Those raising religious concerns have continually advocated for proper labeling of products to enable them make informed choices during shopping (Philip 2008). The unintended breeding of the genetically modified crops and other naturally occurring crops is another area of concern. However, research has proven that there is no much effect if the two cross breed, the only challenge is the possible extinction of the natural species. Further, there is the issue of unintended economic cost of genetically modified plants where some private firms may lay claim of owning the organism thus selling them at a high cost unaffordable to the poor farmers. However, research has proved this point wrong as it reveals that two third of the benefits of GMO flows downstream to the poor with only a third flowing to the wealthy. 


As controversial as it is, I tend to support the introduction of GMO products on our shelves. Initially, I was also opposed to the genetically modified products with the normal stereotype out in the public that it is food full of chemicals. Again, without personal initiative to understand what GMO products really are, it is easy for someone to have misconception on the same. I thus saw the need to get a better understanding. After reading and understanding how genetic modification of plant crops is done, I fully support introduction of these products globally. Food shortage has been a disaster in the recent past, reason being that climate has really changed due to a number of reason most of which are linked to man activity. The initiative to introduce GMO products has solved the food security problem while increasing yield and decreasing cost of farming. Religious concerns is a matter of personal opinion of specific individuals that I choose to respect but it should not be used as a basis to deny the whole population the benefits ripped from the genetically modified crop plants. 

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  1. Halford, N. G., & World Scientific (Firm). (2012). Genetically modified crops. London: Imperial College Press.
  2. Key S., Ma J. and Drake P. (2008). Genetically modified plants and human health. Journal of royal society of medicine, 2008 Jun 1; 101(6): 290–298. 
  3. National Research Council (US) Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health (2004). Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US). Available from: doi: 10.17226/10977
  4. Phillips, T. (2008). Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): Transgenic crops and recombinant DNA technology. Nature Education 1(1):213. 
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