Genetically Modified Food Safety: Metabolomics & Genetically Modified Organisms

and can potentially have consequences for the environment or the consumer.

The first steps in assessing the safety of genetically engineered (also called genetically modified, GM) crop plants is to compare the GM crops with the “unmodified” version of the crop.

This comparison follows a formal process in which the concentration compounds of the modified food is compared to the “original” unmodified crop. If the genetically modified food has a higher concentration of a particular compound, but that concentration still falls within a range found in the original crop, then it is considered safe.

New techniques have been developed to address the general concern voiced by consumers about GM crops and generally about the safety of GMOs and genetic engineering. One of the most practical ones is called “metabolomics”, and does not require knowledge of the entire genome of the original crop. This completely bypasses having to sequence the entire genome before being able to compare it. In metabolomics the genetically engineered food is analyzed in terms of the “metabolites” (i.e. small molecules) present in its cells. This type of analysis will give the researcher the specific quantity of each compound present in the GM crop, which can then be compared to results from the “original” crop.

The first large scale study (performed by Catchpole et al.) using metabolomics was done on genetically engineered potato plants and published in the Proceedings of National Academic Sciences U.S.A. (vol. 102).

These types of techniques can be applied to all genetically engineered and modified foods. Safety controls like these can then silence the arguments voiced by critics that GMOs could produce unplanned and unsafe compounds when genes are disrupted or other genes are introduced unintentionally.

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