Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have an altered genetic makeup that distinguishes them from their original counterparts in terms of better and selective traits. Despite its bad reputation in general mass, GMOs are the finest examples of Genetic Engineering that have widely benefitted many, including food, medicine, and agriculture industries. The concept of Genetic Engineering is not novel; humans have been genetically altering organisms for over 30,000 years! It started with Charles Darwin cross-breeding garden peas and culminated in tremendous applications of Genetic engineering in the modern world. From breeding faster horses and shorter canines, we’ve come a long way, all thanks to the marvel of Genetic engineering.
Fun Fact! Did you know that over 90% of corn seeds used in the US agriculture industry are GMOs? Genetic Engineering is widely applied, and its examples surround you more than your knowledge. In the following post, you will get to know about top genetic engineering examples in real life involving plants, animals, and the medical field.
1. Long-lasting Tomatoes
Tomatoes that we get in the market are most likely genetically engineered. They have better taste, colour, size, and most of all, resistance to pathogens. Indian scientists have managed to produce GM tomatoes with longer shelf life. This is a remarkable step towards the remediation of postharvest losses of fruits and vegetables in India. In 2008, purple tomatoes came into the limelight for their distinctive attributes. Purple tomatoes are not yet available for commercial use; however, similar dark blue tomatoes are available in the market.
2. Faster-growing Trees
We all are concerned with the impending danger of deforestation, yet trees being one of the primary resources of wood, paper, and oil are cut down on large scales. Planting more trees might be the solution, but planting trees that grow faster is a much better solution. With the same intent, trees in Australia, South Africa, Indonesia, and China are being genetically modified to grow faster. In addition to fast growth, these trees will be able to detect biological infestations, yield better products, and even withstand harsher environments.
3. Golden Rice
A rice variety rich in Vitamin A has been in the news known as Golden rice. The rice, as the name suggests, bears a distinctive golden yellow colour and is genetically modified to produce Beta-carotene. The golden rice is intended to overcome a nutritional deficiency in areas affected by the shortage of dietary Vitamin A.
4. Pest-Resistant Crops
Instead of smearing crops with pesticides, genetic engineering has created Bt crops that are genetically modified to be toxic to certain pests. The toxicity in Bt crops is due to the presence of a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, whose genes were integrated with the crops. Bt crops such as cotton, eggplant, and maize are widely grown for their pest-resistant properties, better yield, and as animal feed and agrofuel (biofuel).
5. No-cry Onions
Dreading cutting onions? The genetically modified onions created by a New Zealand research team in 20o8 will rid you of the teary ordeal. The GM onions have suppressed enzymes responsible for triggering the tear ducts. These genetically modified onions also carry more health benefits than regular onions.
6. Bioluminescent Animals
Aequorea victoria is a species of jellyfish that produces a green light through a chemical reaction. This is called bioluminescence, and it is displayed by several other organisms. The cause of this property is the presence of a protein called green fluorescent protein (GFP), discovered by three scientists (Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Tsien), which earned them a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2008. The gene responsible for GFP was then later used to genetically modify certain organisms with similar abilities. Some of the genetically altered organisms include fungi, bacteria, plants, mice, fish, cats, pigs, rabbits, and dogs. The most notable transgenic organisms are Glofish (a genetically modified zebrafish) and Ruppy (World’s first trangenic dog).
7. Silk Milk producing Goats
Sounds strange, isn’t it? But it has been done by Nexia Biotechnologies in 2000 with a goat that produces milk, carrying the spider silk gene. Spider silk has a potential application that was recognized by Nexia Biotechnology to make BioSteel, a web-like high-strength fibre-based material. BioSteel was made from the recombinant milk of transgenic goats. It is used in the making of parachute chords, medical products, implants, artificial ligaments, and tendons.
8. Fast-growing Salmon
AquAdvantage salmon is a genetically engineered fish developed by AquaBounty Technologies in 1989. It has a fast growth rate, twice as the conventional species. Due to its altered growth regulating gene, the salmon can grow all year and has easy availability. The altered salmon has a similar taste and colour to the regular salmon and was approved for commercial production by the U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in 2015.
9. See-through Frogs
Biology labs are infamous for animal dissections, and it is a controversial subject with animal activist groups. Hiroshima University successfully genetically engineered a frog with translucent skin, making its internal organs visible against the light. This dissection-free study sounds more promising and humane than conventional dissection practice.
10. Less Flatulent Cows
Methane is a major contributing greenhouse gas accountable for 30% of global warming. It might not look crucial, but the high-cellulose diet of cows makes them flatulent and release methane gas, which causes a significant impact on the environment. In order to find a solution, scientists at the University of Alberta have created a line of less flatulent cows through genetic engineering. GM cows produce 25% less methane gas than other cows.
Genetically engineered vaccines are created by transferring the immunizing genes into vectors. There are several genetically engineered vaccines in our midst including COVID vaccine developed in 2020. Other known vaccines are categorized as recombinant DNA vaccines, RNA vaccines, subunit vaccines, vector vaccines, etc.
It is possible to create hybrid antibiotics by genetically modifying the naturally occurring antibiotic synthesis pathways of various bacterial species, such as Streptomyces. Evidently, over 200 hybrid antibiotics have been created.
13. Human Insulin
Insulin is an essential hormone necessary to regulate blood sugar levels in the body. People affected with diabetes lack the ability to create insulin naturally and hence need to administer it via subcutaneous injections. Such an important medication is also the result of genetic engineering. It was sourced from a non-pathogenic bacterial strain of Escherichia coli, which was genetically engineered by an American Biotech company in 1983.
14. Synthetic Human Growth Hormone
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a natural hormone released by the pituitary gland and is responsible for growth regulation during childhood. Individuals born with low levels of HGH suffer from short stature and delayed puberty. Scientists have created a synthetic human growth hormone with the help of genetic engineering, which can treat HGH deficiency.
15. Infertility Medications
Gonadotropins (hMG) are natural hormones responsible for follicle production in the ovaries. The pituitary gland is the natural source of hMG. Gonal-F and Follistim (rFSH) are genetically engineered gonadotropins that stimulate the development of follicles in infertile females.