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 Food- Crops

cropsLook what's cropped up - genetically engineered varieties of old farm favorites. Soybeans, corn, potatoes, squash and more are getting microscopic makeovers. Explore more about what happens when produce meets progress.

Transgenics
Genetic engineering, using recombinant DNA techniques, allows scientists to take genes from just about anything, and splice them into a plant's genetic makeup. The result is a transgenic plant. Imagine a tomato that can grow in cold climates because it contains a gene from a cold-resistant fish.

Current Uses
Some of the most common traits being engineered into crops are pest-resistance, disease-resistance, and herbicide resistance. Bt crops, are genetically engineered to produce a toxin that kills certain insects. Nearly 20% of the corn grown in the U.S. is a Bt variety. Cotton is another crop that makes wide use of the Bt technology.

Another common genetically engineered (GE) trait is resistance to herbicides. Roundup Ready soybeans are genetically engineered to withstand a specific spray used to kill weeds. The trait is designed so farmers can spray fewer times and use herbicides that are less toxic. GE soybeans now account for more than 60% of the bean crop in the U.S.

Future Uses
Most of the current genetically engineered traits benefit farmers, not consumers. In the future, that focus could shift. What kind of traits could be on the table? Many of the promised products are healthier versions of existing ones. Canola and soybeans are used to make cooking oils. Genetically engineered versions of those crops could result in oils with a healthier fat content. Potatoes engineered to absorb less fat when they cook could make for healthy french fries. Fruits and vegetables could have more vitamins. The possibilities are endless. What kind of benefits can you think of? What kinds of risks are there?

Another promising application is called "pharming", genetically engineering plants to produce medical products. The plants could be engineered to contain vaccines, or to produce medicines.

Are genetically engineered crops a good idea? Find out more about Farming's Future

Source
Food and Drug Administration. "Genetic Engineering Fast Forwarding to Future Foods." (Online.) September 2002. http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/CONSUMER/geneng.html


Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.


 

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