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What Is GMO Data?

GMO data consists of information about genetically modified organisms—most commonly plants. However, insects, animals, and other organisms may be genetically modified. This modification takes place through selective breeding or insertion of edited genetic code from a different plant or even species.

Other terms for this data include agricultural biotechnology or agritech.

Where Does GMO Data Come From?

Most GMO data comes from government resources or from agricultural biotechnology companies. However, there are open-source databases that provide full and free data as part of their humanitarian work.

What Types of Columns/Attributes Should I Expect When Working with This Data?

Attributes of GMO data include genetic information on the modified organism and on the various effects of GMO adoption.

Genetic information often lists the crop, its line, its sense gene (which codes for a desired trait), and more. It also includes information about current approval for use in which countries.

Other information about agritech includes their adoption in certain countries or states or patent application and adoption. Farmer motivation for adopting these crops and consumer attitudes toward purchasing them also feature.

What Is GMO Data Used For?

The primary purpose of genetically engineered crops in increasing crop yields while decreasing the negative effects of agriculture on the environment, such as pesticide use. Many organizations and companies state that their goal is, ultimately, the eradication of world hunger and malnutrition.

Other uses for this data relate to healthcare, both public and private. For example, biotech companies have released genetically engineered mosquitoes into the wild to reduce diseases like malaria or Zika virus. Additionally, doctors have used genetically engineered insulin since the early 1980’s to treat diabetes.

Relatedly, GMO opponents and skeptics use GMO data to avoid the products, citing, primarily, health concerns. Other objections include environmental and economic concerns. The use of herbicide-resistant crops, for example, encourage farmers to use stronger herbicides that leak into the soil and surrounding water. Meanwhile, GMO companies that patent their inventions could take advantage of farmers or dominate the market to the point that any new threat to their crop could lead to food insecurity.

Finally, there are “fun” uses of genetically engineered products, like changing crop pigmentation or making rodents glow in the dark.

How Should I Test the Quality of This Data?

The most important test of GMO data may be timeliness and relevance. Most GMO data sources provide accurate and comprehensive information, so the only concern for a GMO data set would be timeliness. However, these data sources also keep abreast of new developments, so it should be enough to regularly check in on the data and industry news.

If possible, you can check the genetic code of the product or products in the data set, to confirm the accuracy of the information in the official databases.

Interesting Case Studies and Blogs to Look Into

FAO: Biotechnologies at Work for Smallholders: Case Studies from Developing Countries in Crops, Livestock and Fish
National Geographic: Food: How Altered?

Tangible Examples of Impact

[Oxitec will release some 750 million genetically modified male mosquitoes in the Florida Keys] to counter the spread of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, an invasive species that spreads dengue fever, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever. The male of the species is relatively harmless, as it does not bite humans or other animals, living on fruit instead, while the female lives on a diet of fruit and human blood.

What Oxitec have done is create genetically modified male mosquitoes with a “self-limiting gene” that prevents possible female offspring from surviving once the genetically modified males mate with the wild females. Should the offspring be male, it will survive, but also carry a copy of the self-limiting gene, so that when it breeds, its female offspring will not survive. The goal is to suppress the mosquito population and the spread of disease by limiting the reproduction of females.

Daily Maverick: Here to stay and redefine: The Brave New World of GMO

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