What Are the Benefits of GMO Corn?

Corn
GMO corn provides superior food quality under many growing conditions. (Image: SafakOguz/iStock/Getty Images)

Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, are designed to combine favorable genetic traits not usually found together in nature into a single, superior organism. GMO corn of various types has been bioengineered to include genes borrowed from other plants in order to produce better quality corn, resist pests and parasites, produce larger yields and to thrive under a wider range of environmental conditions. Cornell University's Dr. Susan McCouch, associate professor of plant breeding, says GMOs may help to alleviate world hunger and malnutrition.

Insect Resistance

A 2003 report published in the "Public Library of Science-Biology" describes corn modified to include genes borrowed from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt. The bacterium produces a crystal, Cry, protein that disrupts the gut of insects that ingest it. GMO corn now possesses the insect-killing ability. Over 50 related Cry genes have been found that destroy different insect pests. Corn can now be grown where infestation previously destroyed harvests or required large doses of toxic pesticides pumped into the environment, often killing beneficial insects in the process. Huge increases, measured in extra bushels per acre, have been recorded. Bt corn starch, along with GMO soy lecithin, were used in 70 percent of processed foods in 2002.

Disease Resistance

Corn is subject to plant diseases, including fungi and bacteria. While all plants are susceptible to some diseases, some plants can resist diseases that attack others. Another benefit of GMO corn is described in an International Council for Science, ICSU, report cited by the "Public Library of Science-Biology." Corn bioengineered to carry disease resistance genes from naturally resistant plants contain lower levels of mycotoxins, substances produced by fungi growing on insect-infested, non-GMO corn crops. Myxotoxins are potentially carcinogenic to humans.

Herbicide Resistance

Every home gardener and farmer knows that soil will grow weeds as readily as cash crops. Unfortunately, weeds have no commercial or nutritive value and they rob soil nutrients and sunlight from your useful crops. Herbicides kill weeds, but few are selective. They can also damage agricultural produce, too. And when crops do resist herbicides, concern remains that some may be taken up and retained until people eat the food. Agronomists reporting for AgBioWorld describe glyphosate, brand named Roundup, as an example of a weed-killing pesticide to which GMO corn has been made resistant. Similar GMO corn benefits have been developed for other pesticides.

Original GMO Corn

Genetic modification can also refer to simple plant breeding and cross-pollination of ordinary corn plants to combine favorable characteristics. Corn was originally domesticated in Mexico 10,000 years ago by cross-pollination, transforming teosinte, a nondescript grass, into full-eared, modern corn. GMO corn is not new, say the agricultural historians reporting for "Public Library of Science-Biology." The benefits of the first GMO species have been growing for 10 millennia.

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