Welcome to the world of Genetically Modified Foods! First introduced in the early 1990's, Genetically Modified Foods have since gradually become a major part of our everyday lives. However, most people are unaware of how much of an impact biotechnology has on their diet, and how common the practice of genetically engineering food is around them. Fun Fact #1: Approximately 80% of American processed foods contain some form of genetic modification. These products include foods, feeds, medicines and vaccines. Ranging from taste and appearance enhancement to ensuring medical and health benefits, the possibilities are endless! So what is genetic modification? According to experts, "GM is the alteration of the genome of plants grown for food in order to produce crops with specific advantages." 

 Fun Fact #2: Did you know that heirloom tomatoes (left) are what tomatoes originally look like without genetic modification?

            Genetically engineered foods are mostly plant products (such as corn, soybeans, and potatoes) but the field of genetic alteration has expanded to contain animals and bacteria. Although the spectrum is enormous, the tomato is nothing ordinary. In fact, it has its own part in the history of biotechnology. In 1994, the Flavr Savr tomato (tomato puree) was introduced as the first commercially grown genetically modified product to be licensed for human consumption. [Note: Licenses in the United States must be permitted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval before the product can enter the public market.]  

Originally, tomatoes are picked premature and then artificially ripened by using ethylene gas. By isolating a certain gene, scientists planned to design a tomato that allowed them to be picked without compromising their shelf-life. Although some desired results were not accomplished, the Flavr Savr is an important milestone for the field of genetic modification. In fact, your average smooth, round tomato you find at your local produce store is a product of genetic modification.

            So how do scientists successfully modify the foods we eat? The whole process involves the identification and manipulation of certain genes that can modify the sweetness of a strawberry or change the color of an apple. A gene that determines a desirable trait is found and isolated from a donor organism, which is then incorporated into the recipient organism's genome.The recipient then treats this new gene like any other part of its DNA in a process called Transgenics. Another method of genetic modification is by altering the number of genetic copies in order to modify the position of the gene in the organism's genome. Although gene location is a difficult process, advancements in technology have allowed scientists to establish genome sequencing and data-analyzing techniques for hundreds of organisms in order to better understand and utilize certain genes.

One of the processes of gene location and isolation.

This is a short video segment that distinguishes between traditionally grown plants and genetically modified plants.

Some examples are...

 - Insect resistance is achieved by incorporating the gene for toxin production from the bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis into the recipient plant. Today, this process is used as a conventional insecticide in agriculture.
 - Virus resistance is achieved by isolating a certain gene from a virus which causes diseases in vegetation and inserting it into the recipient plant, making it less susceptible to future diseases caused by that virus.
 - Herbicide tolerance is achieved by introducing a gene from a bacterium that is resistant to certain herbicides into the plant, thus making it more tolerable to herbicides.

            Why do genetically modified foods exist?
Researchers develop genetically modified foods for the purpose of creating an advantage to the producer or the consumer of these products. Such an advantage can be a new product which has greater overall benefits and can sell at a lower price compared to its competitors. The original objective for genetically modified food development was to enhance crop production, such as modifying a plant to age slower or to be resistant to diseases. Fun Fact #3: Nearly 40% of the world's food crop is lost every year to insects, fungal diseases and spoilage. By genetically modifying plants to be less susceptible to these factors, the overall worldwide crop yield would dramatically increase.

            Advancing technology in the field of Genetically Modifying Foods offers a promising window into solving some of the world's greatest challenges, such as poverty and malnutrition. The field of genetically modifying foods exists because it incorporates science into people's everyday lives. Be it creating plants that grow certain plastics or a banana that protects humans against Hepatitis B, scientists and researchers are working hard to expand the horizons of genetic modification. In fact, we may very well be manufacturing the tomato of tomorrow.