Genetically Modified Organisms

Atlantic salmon eggs

Atlantic salmon eggs, Image credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

So, you meet your friend’s mother for the first time. And she quickly exclaims how much you look like your dad! Or like your uncle or grandparent or a distant cousin! Has that ever happened to you? How can one look similar to so many people in the family? Do all of us carry some secret code that makes us resemble our family members?

Well, that secret information we carry in our bodies is called genes. And these genes decide how we look, how tall we become and things like the color of our skin.

Now do you know about Atlantic salmon, a type of fish found in the eastern US? Do you know that they make for delicious food but are difficult to farm? Now there is another type of Pacific salmon found in the western US which usually grows to become very large. What if you could extract a growth gene from them and combine that with the Atlantic type. Could the modified salmon grow much faster than the original one?

That is exactly what a company did in the US. They produced these modified fish that grow faster and are much easier to farm. So much that they can grow to full size in 16 months instead of three years taken by the original salmon.

Fish modified with new genes is just the beginning. We will soon have more types of modified plants and animals. These are referred to as genetically modified organisms or GMOs.

Genetically modified organism - salmon

Genetically modified organism: Modified salmon (in the background) grows faster and bigger than a normal salmon of the same age (in the foreground), Image credit: AquaBounty Technologies, Inc

GMOs are expected to become more common with new developments in science. We can expect them everywhere – from the sweet corn we will eat, to the exotic pets we will play with!

But why are GMOs made?

They have a great number of uses. For example in crop-farming, in livestock production, and also in pet breeding. Consider pet-breeding, which is a very popular thing for pet-lovers. Before GMOs came along, pet-breeders used to cross-breed pets of two different species. Their goal was to make a young animal that had traits of both the species. With GMOs, now, the same young one can be made just by changing the genes of one of the parents.

More examples of GMOs

How about plants? In some areas of the globe, tomato crops get damaged by insects very often. Farmers need to spend a lot of money on pesticides to kill such insects. One way to save money is to produce gene-modified tomato crop that is resistant to common insects, like the tomato fruitworm and the fruit borer.

All in all GMOs offer a very interesting future to all of us. If the area is fascinating to you see if you want to become a Biotechnologist when you grow up?

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