Genetically modified organisms
The term GMO (genetically modified organism) refers to any organism that has been genetically modified, or – in scientific language – genetically engineered: plants (algae, grasses, flowers, food crops, trees), animals (insects, fish, mammals), fungi, unicellular organisms, bacteria, and viruses. In the last decades a wide range of organisms have been subject to genetic modification for research as well as for commercial purposes. Only four major GM crops have so far been commercialised on a larger scale: maize (corn), soya, oilseed rape (canola) and cotton. They have been modified for two different traits: herbicide tolerance and Bt toxin production for pest resistance. A fifth crop, papaya, genetically modified for disease resistance, is grown on a small scale in Hawaii.
Other crop plants that have been engineered but are not commercially grown include: potato, rice and wheat as well as tomato, fodder beet and sugar beet, sugar cane, alfalfa and brinjal (eggplant, aubergine).
Many organisations worldwide work on the wide range of problems and risks linked to GM crops: environmental and biosafety issues, human and animal health, food security, socio-economic impacts, intellectual property rights and more.
In this broad spectrum, the focus of EcoNexus has largely been on three areas:
- GE trees because GE trees pose entirely different environmental risks to annual crops, even in the stage of 'field trials'
- GE rice as the world’s main staple crop
- GE soyaas a GMO, central to the predominant chemical no-till system, mainly destined for animal feed and more recently for biofuel.
GE, GM, LMO or transgenic?
GE (genetically engineered) is the original scientific term, indicating the method used to alter the organism, though the word engineering gives a misleading impression of precision. GM (genetically modified) is widely used to mean the same. ‘Transgenic’ is another common term, scientifically used for the DNA transferred from one organism to another, for example in transgenic DNA or transgenic construct. There is a misconception that transgenic DNA has to originate from a different species. In fact transgenic DNA can also be derived from within the same species, i.e. ‘donor’ and ‘recipient’ organism can be one and the same species or even individual.
Another term used is ‘recombinant DNA technology’.
The term LMO (living modified organism) is used in the context of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and covers all GMOs, but also organisms created by other methods, such as cell fusion.