How do you make a GMO? FDA’s step-by-step guide to genetically engineering a crop

Credit: Agropages
Credit: Agropages

Identify: To produce a GMO plant, scientists first identify what trait they want that plant to have, such as resistance to drought, herbicides, or insects. Then, they find an organism (plant, animal, or microorganism) that already has that trait within its genes. In this example, scientists wanted to create insect-resistant corn to reduce the need to spray pesticides. They identified a gene in a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces a natural insecticide that has been in use for many years in traditional and organic agriculture.

Copy: After scientists find the gene with the desired trait, they copy that gene.

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Insert: Next, scientists use tools to insert the gene into the DNA of the plant. By inserting the Bt gene into the DNA of the corn plant, scientists gave it the insect resistance trait.

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This new trait does not change the other existing traits.

Grow: In the laboratory, scientists grow the new corn plant to ensure it has adopted the desired trait (insect resistance). If successful, scientists first grow and monitor the new corn plant (now called Bt corn because it contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis) in greenhouses and then in small field tests before moving it into larger field tests. GMO plants go through in-depth review and tests before they are ready to be sold to farmers.

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