Transgenic crops: what are they?

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Transgenic crops are plants that have been artificially modified with genes from other plants or non-plant organisms to enhance their growth, resilience, and adaptability. The process involves locating and transferring the desired gene, and the resulting crops are highly regulated for safety. Genetically modified crops are commonly used to improve the health of existing plants or protect them from harmful substances. The legal requirements for growing and selling these crops are strict in most areas, with rigorous testing and research being performed by governments worldwide.

Transgenic crops are defined as all plants that have been artificially pollinated or injected with a gene to enhance 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 from another species of the same or completely different plant, as well as with 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 of injecting a gene into a plant is incredibly complex. To begin, scientists need to locate the specific DNA sequence they wish to modify in the plant and then locate 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 by the parent plant. From this point, the new cells are placed in a culture to reproduce. Depending on the genes being transferred and many other factors, this process can differ slightly and various methods can be used for the transfer process itself.

Genetically modified crops began in the 1980s and one of the most common means of modification is by injecting a plant with a gene from a plant of the same species. Technically classified as cisgenesis, this process is also possible by crossing the two plants, although the genetic method is infinitely faster. Most often, these types of transgenic crops are created to improve the health of the existing plant. For example, a gene from a wild plant can be inserted into the domesticated version to give the latter the resilience of the former, while still making commercial cultivation possible.

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 other substances to protect the crops from pesticides, herbicides, disease or other harmful substances. Typically, this is the most controversial type of genetic modification, although this and cisgenesis are generally handled equally legally in most countries.

A good portion of the world’s land is used to grow and develop genetically modified 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 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) all oversee different aspects of crop safety and environment transgenic. In Europe, each new crop is treated as an entirely new food source and, as such, is rigorously studied, tested and researched before being approved for growth or sale. This same type of rigorous testing, combined with studies on how the crop release will affect the local commercial market, is being performed by most governments, including India, China and Australia.

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