People have been genetically modifying plants and animals for eternity. Virtually every plant we eat is the result of genetic modification via selective breeding. Tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and countless others only exist due to genetic modifications. Furthermore, cows, pigs, chickens and arguably even all modern breeds of dogs are the result of genetic modification.
Modern genetic modification consists of using science to modify the genetic structure of a plant or animal rather than selective breeding. It involves selectively adding, removing, or modifying specific genetic traits.
Modern GMO crops resist weeds, pests, and drought or are immune from pesticides or herbicides. They increase farmer productivity, enabling larger and more efficient farms. GMO foods may last longer before spoiling or resist bruising. GMO’s are simpler and more convenient than traditional methods for weed and pest control. However, critics contend the modifications carry undiscovered risks.
Aranda Chakrabarty discovered modern GMO techniques while working for GE Research. He manipulated the genes of a bacteria so it broke down oil.
Patent protection was initially denied because living things couldn’t be patented. However, in a landmark 1980 case, Diamond v. Chakrabarty, the US Supreme Court decided that modern GMO’s are eligible for patent protection. This ruling created a gold rush.
Subsequently, Genentech developed better insulin in 1982 and companies have engineered pest and herbicide-resistant crops.