People have been altering the genomes of plants and animals for many years using traditional breeding techniques. Artificial selection for specific, desired traits has resulted in a variety of different organisms, ranging from sweet corn to hairless cats. But this artificial selection, in which organisms that exhibit specific traits are chosen to breed subsequent generations, has been limited to naturally occurring variations. In recent decades, however, advances in the field of genetic engineering have allowed for precise control over the genetic changes introduced into an organism. Today, we can incorporate new genes from one species into a completely unrelated species through genetic engineering, optimizing agricultural performance or facilitating the production of valuable pharmaceutical substances. Crop plants, farm animals, and soil bacteria are some of the more prominent examples of organisms that have been subject to genetic engineering.
Current Use of Genetically Modified Organisms
Agricultural plants are one of the most frequently cited examples of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Some benefits of genetic engineering in agriculture are increased crop yields, reduced costs for food or drug production, reduced need for pesticides, enhanced nutrient composition and food quality, resistance to pests and disease, greater food security, and medical benefits to the world's growing population. Advances have also been made in developing crops that mature faster and tolerate aluminum, boron, salt, drought, frost, and other environmental stressors, allowing plants to grow in conditions where they might not otherwise flourish (Table 1; Takeda & Matsuoka, 2008). Other applications include the production of nonprotein (bioplastic) or nonindustrial (ornamental plant) products. A number of animals have also been genetically engineered to increase yield and decrease susceptibility to disease. For example, salmon have been engineered to grow...