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Genetically Modified Foods

What do you get when you cross a chicken with an apple? A daffodil with rice? A flounder with a tomato? These aren’t jokes, waiting1 for a punch line. Believe it or not, combinations like these may therefore2 make their way to your dinner table. There’s a brave new world of agriculture that has some people excited about superfoods. Others, however3 are very nervous.

For thousands of years, farmers improved their crops by patiently crossbreeding plants that had good traits. They take4 pollen from the sweetest melon plants and added it5 to the flowers of plants that produced the largest melons; creating plants6 with melons that were both sweet and large. Crossbreeding doesn’t always succeed, though. Even when it does, it can take decades to get good results. But now, thanks to advances in gene science, many genetic diseases may be cured in the foreseeable future.7

(1) Here’s how it works. (2) First, scientists identify a gene that controls a desirable trait – for example, a protein in an Arctic flounder helpsthe fish thrive in frigid waters. (3) The scientists use chemicals to cut and paste the flounder gene into the genes of tomato cells in a test tube. (4) When the plant is tested to see if the fish gene still works, its tomatoes resist the cold. (5) The cells are then cultured and grow into a tomato plant. [9]

Scientists10 believe the new techniques can create crops that are pest-proof, disease resistant, and more nutrition is contained in them,11 not everybody is convinced that pumping up our food with foreign genes is a good idea. Many people fear plants, with new genes12 forced into them will accidentally crossbreed with wild plants and create pesticide-resistant superweeds. [13] They also say genetically modified (GM) foods could carry genes that trigger allergies or other side effects.

So far, though, GM foods haven’t harmed anyone. Most genetic researchers believe that if troubles do crop up,14 they will be manageable. As the battles go on, will we continue to see GM food on our tables? “I hope so,” answers Allison Snow, an ecologist at Ohio State University. “Even though I have concerns, I think it would be silly not to use this technology. We just have to use it wisely.” [15]