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Potential Human Health Risk Associated with Genetically Modified Plants 

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Genetically modified (GM) plants, also called transgenic plants, are designed to acquire useful quality attributes such as insect resistance, herbicide tolerance, abiotic stress tolerance, disease resistance, high nutritional quality, high yield potential, delayed ripening, enhanced ornamental value, male sterility, and production of edible vaccines. Another major goal for raising the GM plants is their application as bioreactors for the production of nutraceuticals, therapeutic agents, antigens, monoclonal antibody fragments biopolymers, and so forth. Therefore, GM plants can be affecting many aspects of modern society, including agricultural production and medical treatment. Due to the great increase in the world population and the predicted adverse effects of climate change, employing modern agriculture and GM plants plays a key role in meeting global demands today. Despite their known benefits and potential applications, the development and use of GM plants still raise safety concerns and their impact on both organisms and the environment has remained controversial.

Some people believe that the impact of GM crops on human health is not fully understood. There are concerns about the use of viral DNA during the modification process, and some question whether there would be created new health diseases if genes introduced in a GM crop were to be taken up by the human body. As GM foods begin to invade our diet, people are concerned about the safety of GM foods.


The first GM plant was produced in 1983, using an antibiotic-resistant tobacco plant. China was the first country to commercialize a GM crop in the early 1990s with the introduction of virus-resistant tobacco. In 1994, the GM ‘Flavour Saver tomato’ was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for marketing in the USA. The modification allowed the tomato to delay ripening after picking. In 1995, few GM crops received marketing approval. This includes canola with modified oil composition (Calgene), Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) corn/maize (Ciba-Geigy), cotton resistant to the herbicide bromoxynil (Calgene), Bt cotton (Monsanto), Bt potatoes (Monsanto), soybeans resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (Monsanto), virus-resistant squash (Asgrow) and additionally delayed ripening tomatoes (DNAP, Zeneca/Peto, and Monsanto).

In 2013, GM crops were planted in 27 countries, 19 were developing countries and 8 were developed countries. 18 million farmers grew GM crops; around 90% were smallholding farmers in developing countries. Between 1996 and 2015, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops increased by a factor of 100, from 17,000 km2 (4.2 million acres) to 1,797,000 km2 (444 million acres). 10% of the world’s arable land was planted with GM crops in 2010.

In the US, by 2014, 94% of the planted area of soybeans, 96% of cotton, and 93% of corn were genetically modified varieties. The use of GM crops expanded rapidly in developing countries, with about 18 million farmers growing 54% of worldwide GM crops by 2013. A 2014 meta-analysis concluded that GM technology adoption had reduced chemical pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yields by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.

Aim and objectives

The aim of this paper is to review the major concerns about the potential human health risk associated with GM plants. The health risk is something that will increase the chance of developing a disease. The GM plants may create unpredictable, hard to detect side effects, including allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems.

Risk of food allergy

This paper stated that the transfer of genes from the cells of one organism to the cell nuclei of another organism results in the expression and synthesis of new proteins, absent till then in parental cells. The amino acid sequence forming the structure of a given protein poses the main risk of food allergy development due to exposure to transgenic food. The term allergy denotes a pathological immune reaction, resulting from a response to an antigen carried by a specific food component. The main allergens are thought to involve alimentary proteins, the consumption of which may induce sequentially skin reactions, alterations in the respiratory system and the circulatory system, up to induction of an anaphylactic shock, creating serious negative effects on health. It is estimated that food components allergize approximately 2% of the world’s adults and as many as 6% of children [5].

Synthesis of toxic compounds

A significant problem linked to the effects of GMOs on consumers’ health and life is the potential for synthesis in their cells and tissues of anti-alimentary, toxic products or products which increase the risk of activating neoplastic processes. This can be exemplified by events that took place in Spain in 1983 when a modified rape oil with a pronounced toxic effect was permitted to enter the general market. Consumption of the oil resulted in the deaths of a marked number of consumers. It was speculated that the intoxication induced the so-called toxic oil syndrome (TOS), reflecting contamination of the oil with aniline or its derivatives, responsible for the toxic signs.

Development of resistance to antibiotics

At the early stage of the transgenesis process, bacteria are frequently used, similar to bacterial genes resistant to therapeutic antibiotics, playing in parallel the role of markers or elements allowing to distinguish transformed cells from cells that did not accept the coding alleles.

Séralini GE, Cellier D, de Vendomois JS. A new analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.52(4):596–602, 2007.

This paper has reported that in a 90-day experiment, GM corn MON863-treated rats caused growth variations and hepatorenal toxicity, and hormone disturbance, the intensity of which were dependent on sex, duration, and concentration. In a two-year study, GM corn NK603-treated rats caused severe organ damage, particularly liver and kidney, increased the trend of tumors incidence, and reduced lifespan.

Allergic Reactions

According to the paper, the research conducted by Brown University reported that the recent GM foods can pose significant allergy risks to people. The genetic modification often adds or mixes proteins that were not indigenous to the original animal or plant, which might cause new allergic reactions in the human body. In some cases, proteins from organisms that you are allergic to might be added to organisms that you were not originally allergic to. That means the range of food choices will be lessened.

Decreased Antibiotic Efficacy

Besides, according to the Iowa State University, some GM foods have antibiotic features that are built into them, making them resistant or immune to viruses or diseases or viruses. And when we eat them, these antibiotic markers will persist in the body and will render actual antibiotic medications less effective. The university also warns that ingestion of these foods and regular exposure to antibiotics may contribute to the reduced effectiveness of antibiotic drugs, as noticed in hospitals across the planet.

New Diseases

GM foods can create new diseases. Considering that they are modified using viruses and bacteria, there is a fear that this will certainly happen. This threat to human health is a worrisome aspect that has received a great deal of debate.


The benefits of using genetic engineering techniques are so great, that they cannot be ignored. They can help to solve hunger issues in developing countries by increasing yields and nutritional values. However, the risks are still present. Although World Health Organization(WHO) states that the GM foods currently available on the international market have passed safety assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health.

The genetic engineering techniques are so new that scientists are unaware of the effects that they could have on humans in the long run. It can also be harmful to the environment. There are both benefits and risks with genetic engineering techniques and all people should carefully consider them because this is an issue that will change the world.

Despite the controversy surrounding them, genetically modified techniques have taken root in our world. As with any new technology, members of society have the responsibility to become informed about that in order to make decisions about their responsible use and regulation.


  1. Smita Rastogi Verma, “Genetically Modified Plants: Public and Scientific Perceptions,” ISRN Biotechnology, vol. 2013, Article ID 820671, 11 pages, 2013.
  2. S. Rastogi and N. Pathak, Genetic Engineering, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, India, 2009.
  3. James, Clive. “Global status of commercialized Biotech/GM crops.” ISAAA Brief No. 43. ISAAA: Ithaca, 2011.
  4. James, Clive. “Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops: 2014,” ISAAA Brief No. 49. ISAAA: Ithaca, NY. 2014.
  5. Kramkowska M., Grzelak T., Czyżewska K., Benefits and risks associated with genetically modified food products. Annals of agricultural and environmental medicine: AAEM, 20(3):413-9, 2013.
  6. Séralini GE, Cellier D, de Vendomois JS. New analysis of a rat feeding study with a genetically modified maize reveals signs of hepatorenal toxicity. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.52(4):596–602, 2007.
  7. Shetty, M.J., Chandan K., Krishna HC., & Aparna GS. Genetically modified crops: An overview. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 7(1): 2405-2410, 2018.
  8. GMO Answers:  

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