When you look at this picture, what do you see? Wheat. Looks like ordinary wheat, probably taste like ordinary wheat and, although we can't really tell, it probably feels like ordinary wheat too. But this wheat is different. However, on a genetic level, this wheat is quite different to others within its family. It is drought resistant, herbicide resistant and very tolerant to cold temperatures. This wheat has been bred to express certain traits that are not normally associated with it. How? Through genetic modification technology.
GM technology is an extremely dynamic field of science as new modifications are being made every day. Genes store all information within a cell. They code for proteins which are used in the cells for a variety of functions form enzyme formation to cellular response. DNA is like the coding system for genes. All DNA is made of four different nucleotides Amine, Guanine, Cytosine and Thymine. By capitalizing on the common nucleotides that all genes posses, scientists are able to pick and choose specific traits within organisms, in which it occurs naturally, and transfer them to other organisms where it does not. They do this by essentially cutting and pasting the trait/resistant they want expressed, into the genome of the target organism. However, not all genes modification are successful. To test if the uptake of the new section of DNA, scientists may attach a marker gene to the target gene sequence. An apt example of this is the transfer of an antibiotic resistant gene from one bacteria cell to another. It was in this way that GM wheat was first made.
GM technology has recently been widely researched field of science as scientists are discovering the uses it can be put to. Using the wheat example again, if you were to breed a plant that was tolerant enough to survive the dry regions of Africa yet still produce a decent amount of wheat, what would that do to the food shortage? It has the potential to allow those below the poverty line to produce food for themselves, even in the harshest conditions, instead of food being imported from more fertile regions of the country. GM crops have been heavily integrated into our society already. Plants that are herbicide resistant, insect resistant and even possessing a higher saline tolerance are being released into our market.
The wide use of GM goods has resulted in much controversy especially in regards to the potential cross-breeding between wild and GM species (via transposons). There is also the possibility of the pests evolving to produce 'super-toxins', much like flu and the super-strains that can develop. The toxins that result from this adaptation could make the food inedible. However, GM products are controlled by strict legislation and regulations that exist for the purpose of avoid these dangers.
GM food technology is still a fairly new field of research. It is a very dynamic industry that continues to reinvent itself and will revolutionize the way we view food.