The European corn borer, Ostrinia nubilalis, has been known to cause major damage to corn crops in the U.S. and Canada. The larval stage of this organism bores holes in the corn plants as they feed. However, scientists discovered that there was a gene that they could insert into the corn plant’s genome that would help them be resistant to these larva. The gene that is inserted comes from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis and codes for an endotoxin protein that acts as an insect stomach poison. The endotoxin proteins binds to cells in the intestinal lining of the larva and the cells burst. This causes the larva to stop eating quickly and die within a few days depending on how much toxin is ingested. While this protein is toxic to the European corn borer larva, it is harmless and safe for most other organisms including humans. Genetically modified corn with the Bacillus entotoxin, commonly called Bt corn, was introduced in 1996 and its use in corn fields is expanding.
For more information about Bt corn, visit this website from the University of Minnesota: http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/cropsystems/DC7055.html.
Food scientists have also been applying genetic modification to crops with the goal of making them more nutritious. This would be particularly beneficial in parts of the world where nutritional deficiencies are common and a diet full of fruits and vegetables is not possible. Vitamin A deficiency is thought to be responsible for at least 1 million deaths annually worldwide. Golden rice has been developed in attempt to make rice more nutritious by inserting genes that produce beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. It is intended for this rice to be grown and eaten by the poor and malnourished populations of the world and give them more of a vitamin that is lacking in their diets. The beta-carotene in the rice causes it to have a yellow/orange color instead of white, hence the name golden rice. The first prototype was developed in 1999 and in 2004 the first golden rice was grown. Currently the genetically modified rice is going through rigorous testing and assessment for safety and effectiveness before it can gain approval for human consumption and widespread distribution.
To learn more about the golden rice effort, visit the Golden Rice Project website at: http://www.goldenrice.org.