Genetically modified organisms: A revolutionary advancement

In science and the agri-food industry, today’s prevailing subject of interest pertains to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Genetically modified organisms: A revolutionary advancement

In science and the agri-food industry, today’s prevailing subject of interest pertains to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

This topic has generated significant global concerns. However, it is worth noting that this recurring pattern is not unique; it unfolds with each stride forward in the scientific domain, particularly when these advancements relate to human well-being.

Consistently, controversies have arisen due to pivotal scientific innovations reminiscent of past instances, such as selective breeding, vaccination, embryonic stem cell development, and cloning. Now, the focal point of debate is GMOs.

It is essential to underscore that GMOs are not as complex as they have unfortunately been portrayed to the public.

What are GMOs?

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, encompass a scientific technique wherein researchers extract advantageous traits from one robust organism and introduce them into a less robust organism to elicit desired outcomes in subsequent generations. This process facilitates the enhancement of both organisms and generations, ultimately leading to improved results.

Indeed, several techniques are available for genetic modification of organisms, including recombinant DNA methods, gene splicing, protoplast fusion for plants, CRISPR-Cas9, microinjection for animal genetic modification, and agrobacterium-mediated transformation.

From my perspective, the most intriguing techniques include the CRISPR-Cas9 method, Agrobacterium-Mediated transformation, and the recombinant DNA method.


The CRISPR-Cas9 technique stands out as particularly captivating. The term “CRISPR” stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, while “CAS-9” refers to the protein acting as a molecular scissor.

CAS-9 precisely cuts the targeted DNA strand, which can then be replaced. It is why the CRISPR tool is often called the “genetic scissor.” Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering this technique.

Charpentier’s groundbreaking work revealed a previously unknown molecule, tracrRNA, in bacteria, part of the microbial immune system, helping them combat viruses by cleaving viral DNA. This microbial defence mechanism is termed CRISPR.

Concurrently, Doudna was mapping the CAS proteins, a set of enzymes associated with CRISPR that snip DNA at specific sites. Through their collaboration, these scientists successfully recreated these genetic scissors in a laboratory setting, enabling precise DNA cutting at user-defined locations.

Natural CRISPR Pathway:

Bacteria utilise the CRISPR pathway for self-defence against viral attacks. When a virus invades a bacterium, the bacterium captures fragments of the virus’s DNA and constructs a DNA segment known as a CRISPR array.

Upon subsequent viral invasions, the bacterium generates a matching-binding RNA molecule that targets the virus’s DNA at the previously identified site. The CAS-9 protein, released by the bacterium, cleaves the viral DNA, rendering the virus inactive due to its inability to regenerate. This natural CRISPR pathway is a defense mechanism for bacteria against invading viruses.

Application of the CRISPR Technique:

The CRISPR technique has been harnessed for the benefit of humanity. When scientists aim to manipulate specific gene sequences in an organism to achieve desired outcomes, they follow a series of steps:

  1. Identification of the target DNA sequence
  2. Programming of an mRNA molecule to locate the desired nucleotide sequences.
  3. Attachment of the RNA molecule to the targeted DNA segment, where the CAS9 protein, acting as a molecular scissor, cleaves the DNA strand.
  4. Utilization of the organism’s natural DNA regeneration capability by introducing the desired DNA segment, resulting in the desired genetic modification.

While these steps may seem straightforward in theory, their practical implementation can be considerably more complex.

In addition to the CRISPR-Cas9 gene transfer technique, numerous other methods exist for genetic modification, including gene splicing, Agrobacterium-Mediated transformation, the recombinant DNA method, and protoplast transformation. Among these, protoplast and Agrobacterium-mediated transformations are particularly effective for genetically modifying plants such as soybeans, wheat, and tomatoes.

Benefits of GMOs

Genetic modification offers numerous advantages for the human population, improving modified products’ quality, quantity, and safety.

Increased crop yield and food production:

Genetically modified (GM) crops yield less, as has been debunked. Recent statistics demonstrate a substantial increase in the production of crops such as maize, soybeans, wheat, and sugarcane.

Brazil, for instance, has emerged as a leading player in soybean exports, with approximately $40 billion in annual exports. It starkly contrasts with the year 2000, when Brazil’s soybean exports were valued at only $2.2 billion. The introduction of GM soybean seeds was pivotal in this remarkable increase in soybean exports.

Indeed, one of the primary advantages of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is their ability to resist pests or diseases, which can significantly reduce crop waste and losses. This resistance trait often leads to higher crop yields and increased farmer profitability.

For instance, the case of BT cotton in India serves as an excellent example. The cotton industry in India faced a significant challenge due to bollworm infestations, resulting in substantial crop losses. BT cotton was developed by incorporating genes from the bacterium bollworms. When BT cotton was introduced into the market, it effectively combated bollworm infestations by producing these insecticidal toxins within the cotton plant.

The introduction of BT cotton reduced the wastage of cotton due to pest damage and made cotton cultivation more productive. Farmers benefited from increased yields, as fewer crops were lost to bollworms. Increased productivity and profitability have made BT cotton a valuable tool for cotton growers in India and other regions facing similar pest challenges.


The development of genetically modified crops like BT cotton, which exhibit resistance to insects and pests, has significantly reduced the use of insecticides and pesticides in agricultural fields. This shift towards reduced chemical usage offers several advantages, including healthier crop growth, decreased environmental pollution, improved yields, and cost savings.

One of the primary benefits of using fewer insecticides and pesticides is promoting healthier crop growth. Chemicals used for pest control can have unintended consequences, sometimes harming the crops they protect. By relying less on these chemicals, genetically modified crops can thrive in a more natural and balanced environment.

Reduced chemical use also has positive implications for soil health. Excessive use of insecticides and pesticides can damage soil structure, lead to erosion, and deplete soil nutrients. GMOs preserve soil quality and fertility by minimizing chemical usage, which is crucial for sustainable agriculture.

Furthermore, the advantages of GMOs extend beyond the field. In the case of livestock and poultry farming, genetically modified animals with desirable traits have been introduced. It has increased protein production without the need for steroids or chemical additives. As a result, food production is more efficient and reduces the need for medications and chemicals in animal husbandry.

In summary, GMOs play a pivotal role in minimizing chemical usage in agriculture and related industries, benefiting crop and soil health while contributing to more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices in food production.

Concerns and Controversies Surrounding GMOs

The concerns surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are widespread and have prompted various responses from governments, businesses, and the public worldwide. Let’s examine some of the key points you’ve raised:

European Union (EU):

The EU has historically been cautious about GMOs and implemented strict regulations. However, in recent years, there has been some relaxation of rules related to GMO cultivation, allowing individual member states to make decisions on GMO cultivation within their territories. This approach provides flexibility while addressing concerns.

United States:

In the United States, GMO regulation has focused on ensuring the safety of GMOs for human, plant, and animal health. Multiple government agencies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), oversee GMOs to ensure their safety. The regulatory framework is designed to assess and manage the risks associated with GMOs.


Like many other countries, Pakistan has concerns and debates about GMOs. The absence of a clear and comprehensive policy on GMOs can lead to uncertainty and challenges for various industries, such as the poultry feed industry, which relies on imported GM soybeans. The balance between food security, agricultural innovation, and environmental concerns is a complex issue that governments need to address.

Global Perspective:

GMO-related concerns are not limited to specific regions; they are part of a global dialogue. Countries have adopted varying approaches based on their agricultural practices, public sentiment, and perceived risks and benefits of GMOs.

Balancing Act:

Governments face the challenge of balancing ensuring food security, supporting agricultural innovation, and addressing environmental and safety concerns associated with GMOs. It often involves risk assessments, regulatory frameworks, and public engagement to make informed decisions.

Trade Implications:

The regulation and approval of GMOs in one country can have trade implications, especially in regions with divergent views on GMO safety. Trade disputes may arise when countries with differing GMO regulations engage in international trade.

In summary, the concerns surrounding GMOs are multifaceted and complex, encompassing environmental, health, trade, and economic considerations. Governments and regulatory agencies play a crucial role in addressing these concerns while fostering innovation in agriculture and ensuring food safety and security.

Golden Rice: Combating Vitamin A Deficiency and Improving Public Health

In the world of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), there shines a beacon of hope known as “Golden Rice.” This GMO variety of rice has the potential to revolutionize nutrition for vulnerable populations by addressing a critical health issue that affects millions, particularly children, pregnant women, and older individuals.

Vitamin A deficiency is a major health concern in numerous third-world countries with limited access to a diverse and nutritious diet. This deficiency can have devastating consequences, especially for children, as it weakens the immune system, hampers growth and development, and can lead to blindness and even death. Pregnant women and older individuals are also at risk, making vitamin A deficiency a pervasive and silent killer.

Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that plays a fundamental role in maintaining the health of our eyes, skin, and immune system. While it is abundant in foods like leafy vegetables and animal products, these nutritional sources can be prohibitively expensive or inaccessible for impoverished communities.

In the early 2000s, scientists embarked on a mission to develop a solution to the vitamin A deficiency crisis. Their innovation, known as Golden Rice, represents a potential breakthrough in addressing this pressing global health issue.

Golden rice is a genetically modified rice variety engineered to produce beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. Beta-carotene gives the rice its golden hue and, more importantly, the ability to combat vitamin A deficiency.

What makes golden rice significant is its potential to provide an alternative, cost-effective, and accessible source of vitamin A for populations that rely heavily on rice as a staple food. By fortifying rice with beta-carotene, golden rice has the potential to save lives, improve eye health, and enhance overall well-being. It offers hope for communities where vitamin A deficiency has long been a silent scourge.

However, the path to widespread adoption of golden rice has not been without challenges. Regulatory hurdles, opposition from anti-GMO activists, and concerns about intellectual property rights have sometimes hindered progress. The ongoing debate over the safety and acceptance of GMOs remains a significant barrier to fully realizing Golden Rice’s potential.

The development of golden rice serves as a testament to the pivotal role of scientific innovation in addressing pressing global health challenges. When harnessed responsibly and ethically, GMO technology can be a potent tool to enhance the nutritional content of crops and improve the health and quality of life for vulnerable populations.

In conclusion, golden rice represents hope in the fight against vitamin A deficiency and its devastating health consequences. Its potential to revolutionize nutrition and improve public health in resource-constrained regions cannot be overstated. However, addressing the broader challenges of regulatory acceptance, public perception, and equitable access to such innovations is essential for realizing their full potential in the battle against malnutrition and its silent toll on human lives.

The future of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) appears promising, with many countries gradually adopting and regulating policies related to their use. This shift in attitude towards GMOs is driven by their potential benefits, including economic advantages, improved agricultural productivity, and enhanced food security.

In developed countries, where rigorous scientific research and safety assessments have been conducted, GMO adoption has become more widespread. These nations recognize the potential of GMOs to boost their economies, increase crop yields, and reduce crop losses due to pests and diseases. GMOs have proven valuable in addressing agricultural challenges and have contributed to improved food production and sustainability.

However, in many developing countries, the adoption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remains a topic of debate and scrutiny. While some see the potential benefits, others are concerned about GMOs’ safety, long-term environmental impact, and potential effects on public health. These concerns have led to cautious approaches and regulatory delays in some regions.

The adoption of GMOs in developing countries is often influenced by a complex interplay of factors, including regulatory capacity, access to technology, public perception, and the specific agricultural needs of each nation. Some developing countries have started exploring GMO adoption to enhance agricultural productivity and address food security challenges, but the path forward is not uniform.

Overall, the future of GMOs is characterized by a global landscape where adoption and regulation vary from one country to another. As scientific research and understanding of GMOs continue to evolve, their adoption will likely expand, especially in regions with compelling potential benefits for agriculture, nutrition, and economic development.

However, achieving a balance between harnessing the potential of GMOs and addressing concerns related to safety, the environment, and public health will remain a key challenge for policymakers and stakeholders worldwide.

This article is jointly authored by Huzaifa Saleemi from the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Riphah International University, Lahore, and Aqdas-Ul-Hassan from the Department of Microbiology, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Lahore.