20 Jan 2022

GMOs: Glancing through the years

GMOs: Glancing through the years
Written by Drithi Neeraj

Scientists have so far created microbes that manufacture pharmaceuticals – grade pharmaceuticals, crops- pharmaceuticals. crops with built-in insecticides, and glow-in-the-dark beagles. While these are all relatively recent scientific breakthroughs, humans have been tinkering with species’ genomes for over 30,000 years. How did the concept of genetically modified organisms, as we know it now, arise from the original method of selective breeding? Innovators, spurred on by some of the world’s most pressing issues, have prepared the road for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) – a path that leads to an inconceivable array of benefits while also raising significant questions. Here with the answers you need, is TrailBlazHER’s Anvita Tripathi.

In recent years, the concept of “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs, has gotten a lot of press. Indeed, since late 2012, the number of Google searches for “GMO” has more than tripled. Humans, on the other hand, have been genetically altering species for more than 30,000 years! Needless to say, our forefathers did not have access to scientific laboratories capable of directly modifying DNA, so how did they do it, and how did GMOs become such a hot topic?

Even though our forefathers had no knowledge of genetics, they were nonetheless able to manipulate the DNA of other organisms through a method known as ‘selective breeding’ or ‘artificial selection.’ Charles Darwin used these terms to describe the process of selecting organisms with the most desirable features and mating them with the goal of combining and propagating those traits through the progeny. When this procedure is used repeatedly over generations, it can cause profound genetic alterations in a species. While artificial selection isn’t what we think of when we think of GMOs today, it is the forerunner to modern procedures and the first evidence of our species impacting genetics.


The dog is regarded to be the first organism that humanity selected artificially. Wild wolves in East Asia joined groups of humans as scavengers some 32,000 years ago, and were tamed and selected for docility, resulting in dogs that are closely related to what are today known as ‘Chinese native dogs’. Over millennia, features like size and body shape were artificially selected, transforming the genetics of these tamed wolves to the point where we now have breeds like Chihuahuas that bear little resemblance to wolves! Since then, artificial selection has been applied to a wide range of species, assisting in the development of everything from prize-winning racehorses to muscular beef cattle.


A variety of plants has also been subjected to artificial selection. The earliest evidence may be found in archaeological sites in southwest Asia dating back to 7800 BCE, when scientists discovered domestic wheat types. Artificial selection of maize, on the other hand, has resulted in the most significant change in plant genetics. Corn, or maize, began as a teosinte-like wild grass with tiny ears and few kernels. Teosinte was carefully selected over centuries to have larger ears with more and more kernels, resulting in what we now call corn. Large heads of broccoli and bananas with barely perceptible seeds have all come from a similar method.


Despite artificial selection being an ancient method, most contemporary discussions about GMOs refer to a far more modern process of altering organism genetics.

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