genetically modified organisms

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genetically modified organisms (GMOs) Organisms whose genomes incorporate and express genes from another species. Genetically modified (or transgenic) individuals are created by genetic engineering, using suitable vectors to insert the desired foreign gene into the fertilized egg or early embryo of the host.

Since the early 1980s developments in genetic engineering have made it possible to produce genetically modified organisms. A gene from one organism is isolated and transfered to cells of another organism, where it is incorporated into the recipient's chromosomes and expressed. Such transgenic organisms can exhibit quite novel characteristics. During the 1990s there was a dramatic growth in the commercial applications of this new technology, ranging from the production of human hormones in bacteria and vaccines in yeasts to the development of genetically modified (GM) crop plants.


Various methods are used to introduce novel genes, depending on the nature of the recipient organism. Much of the work with genetic modification of plants involves protoplasts, cultured spherical cells from which the cell walls have been removed. The Ti plasmid (see illustration) of A. tume faciens has been used successfully as a vector with certain dicotyledons, including tobacco, tomato, potato, soyabean, and cotton. It works much less well with grasses, cereals, and other monocots. In these plants various other techniques are available, including: • electroporation – treatment of cells by exposure to an electric field that renders them transiently permeable to DNA fragments;• microinjection – injection of DNA directly into the cell nucleus;• biolistics – ‘shooting’ a cell with a DNA-coated tungsten microprojectile.To produce a transgenic animal the novel genes are inserted at a very early stage of development, e.g. the early embryo or the pronucleus of a fertilized egg, typically using microinjection. The recombinant embryos are then transferred to the uterus of a foster mother to complete their development.



• tolerance to herbicides• improved insect resistance• ‘vaccination’ against specific diseases• longer ‘shelf life’ for fruit


• production of therapeutic proteins in milk• potential for improved growth rates and milk yields• potential for production of organs for human transplants


The use of GM organisms in the environment poses certain potential problems. For example, genes for herbicide or insect resistance may spread from crop plants to wild plants, with possible serious consequences for both agriculture and natural ecosystems. Farmers may be faced with new ‘superweeds’, while insect populations could decline. Moreover, the products of GM crops have to be fully evaluated to ensure that they are safe to eat. Genetic modification of animals often has unforeseen side-effects and raises ethical issues about such treatments.

Genetically Modified Organisms

views updated May 14 2018

Genetically Modified Organisms

Humans have tried to influence the development of organisms for centuries by selectively breeding plants and animals. Advances in genetics make it possible to engineer organisms at the cellular level to improve everything from the productivity of crops to the viability of animal organs and tissues for transplantation to humans. There are basically two ways to genetically alter an organism: A transgenic animal has been modified by the introduction of a new gene, whereas a knock out is an animal in which a given gene is no longer expressed. Religious and ethical concerns include respect for the well being of future generations of the organisms and possible effects on the environment.

See also Biotechnology; DNA; Gene Therapy; Genetic Determinism; Genetic Engineering; Genetics; Xenotransplantation


applegate, john s. "the prometheus principle: using the precautionary principle to harmonize the regulation of genetically modified organisms" indiana journal of global legal studies 9, no. 1 (2001): 207264. available from

pontifical academy for life. "prospects for xenotransplantation: scientific aspects and ethical consideration." september 26, 2001. available from http://www.

wolfenbarger, l. l., and phifer, p. r. "the ecological risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants." science 2088 (2000): 290.

donna m. mckenzie

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Genetically modified organisms

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