GMOs: the science behind genetically altered crops

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Genes are what give every living creature the specific characteristics it inherits. Your genes determine your specific height, the colour of your eyes and the shape of your nose, for example. GM stands for ‘genetically modified’. Genetic modification is the process by which the genes of a plant or an animal are changed in ways that do not occur naturally (e.g. the normal genetic differences between parents and children).

Modifying certain genes in plants allows us to change some of the characteristics they exhibit. Through genetic modification, we can change small groups of genes in plants so that they have traits that are more desirable. These plants are called genetically modified organisms (GMOs).


GMOs can have very helpful characteristics leading to a range of positive impacts. Some of these traits are as follows:

  • GMOs are more drought-resistant. Drought-resistant crops can save thousands of acres of food at times when no rain falls.
  • GMOs have higher crop yields. This means that farmers can get more food out of GMO crops while using less money and fewer resources.
  • GMO crops are more resistant against plant diseases and pests. Farmers therefore require less pesticides for such crops, saving money and the environment.
  • GMO crops contain higher levels of necessary vitamins. Your body will be more likely to get all the nutrients it needs from them. Over time, this means that you will have a healthier immune system to protect you from illnesses, and stronger bones!
  • Altogether, GMOs can lead to more, cheaper and healthier food. In fact, if we stopped using GMOs, we would need an extra 1.1 million hectares of cultivated land globally to keep producing food at our current rate.
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GMOs are currently used by 28 countries worldwide. Of those, the United States has the largest cultivation area (roughly 80 million hectares). It produces genetically modified soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets, and many more. A large variety!

In Africa, three countries produce GMOs. South Africa produces cotton, corn and soybeans, while Burkina Faso and Sudan both produce corn. Droughts and food scarcity are big problems in Africa, and so using GMOs can be a real solution to some of these problems in the future.

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