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GMOs and the Environment, Part 1



GMOs and the Environment, Part 1
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.66

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    bioengineering, non-GM, preprogrammed, toxicology, alarming, favorable, outcry, composition, latter, suppress, technological, heavily, significant, account, twentieth, testing


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GMOs and the Environment, Part 1
By Mary Lynn Bushong
  

1     Not long ago, headlines were made when genetically modified corn was found to have been added into the human food chain. Why was there such an outcry at the time? What was it about a GMO (genetically modified organism) crop that was so alarming? Perhaps the biggest reason people feared it is that no one was certain about the long term effects of these genetically modified crops.
 
2     Let's start at the beginning. People have been breeding new varieties of plants for thousands of years. By choosing plants for breeding that express the traits that are desired, people can select for certain genes to change how the plantâs offspring look or work. The important part is that no new genetic material has been added to the plant's DNA. Conventional plant breeding simply changes the way that the plant's existing DNA is expressed.
 
3     In the latter half of the twentieth century, scientists began to experiment with adding foreign genes to an existing DNA strand. This process is done on a very small scale. Gene splicing is done at a sub-microscopic level. Gene splicing in plants involves the selection of desirable genes, which may be from a closely related species (like another plant) or from an entirely different species (like a bacterium, virus, or even an animal). Then the genes are inserted into the DNA of the plant that is being modified. This can be accomplished in several different ways. Bacteria, or less commonly, viruses, can be used to insert the new genetic material into the plant's existing DNA. There are also new laboratory techniques and equipment that can accomplish the task of genetic recombination without the use of other organisms.

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