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What Are Transgenic Crops?

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  • Written By: Amanda R. Bell
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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Transgenic crops are defined as any plants that have been artificially pollinated or injected with a gene to improve upon the resilience, growth, and adaptability of the original crop. This process, which involves separating genes from each plant or substance and then transferring the gene to a donor, can be done with genes coming from another species of the same plant or a different one entirely, as well as genes from non-plant organisms. In most parts of the world, transgenic crops are highly regulated to protect the safety of humans, other crops, and the environment.

The actual process for injecting a plant with a gene is incredibly complex. To start, scientists must pinpoint the specific DNA sequence that they wish to modify in the plant, and then pinpoint the replacement gene in the other organism. The gene is then removed from the donor, processed to increase the amount of DNA present, and then injected into the cell from the main plant. From this point, the new cells are placed in a culture to reproduce. Depending on the genes being transferred and multiple other factors, this process may differ slightly and various methods may be used for the transfer process itself.

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Genetically modifying crops began in the 1980s, and one of the most common means of modifications is injecting one plant with a gene from a plant in the same species. Technically classified as cisgenesis, this process is also possible by breeding the two plants together, although the genetic method is infinitely quicker. Most often, these types of transgenic crops are created to improve the health of the existing plant. For example, the gene from a wild plant may be inserted into the domesticated version to provide the latter with the resilience of the former while still making it possible to grow the crop commercially.

Genes from non-plant organisms are also injected into plants. These types of transgenic crops are typically injected with a gene from a variety of bacteria or anther substance to protect the crops from pesticides, herbicides, diseases, or other harmful substances. Typically, this is the most controversial type of genetic modification, although this and cisgenesis are typically handled in the same manner legally in most countries.

A good portion of the world’s land is used to grow and develop transgenic crops, despite the fact that the legal requirements for growing and selling these crops for human consumption are extremely strict in most areas. In the United States, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all oversee different safety and environmental aspects of transgenic crops. In Europe, each new crop is treated as a completely new food source and, as such, is stringently studied, tested, and researched before it is approved for growth or sale. This same type of strict testing, combined with studies into how the release of the crop will affect the local trade market, are performed by most governments, including India, China, and Australia.

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