Many people would like to know exactly which genetically engineered foods are in the food supply. In the United States, the following foods may be found in the supermarket (as of January 2015). Note that refined oil and sugar do not contain DNA or protein, so even if the source plant was genetically engineered, these products are indistinguishable non-genetically engineered products.
- Herbicide tolerant alfalfa is fed to some dairy cattle.
- Herbicide tolerant canola is made into canola oil.
- Herbicide tolerant and/or insect resistant field corn is made into corn oil, fed to livestock, and used in many processed foods.
- Herbicide tolerant and/or insect resistant sweet corn is sold in small quantities.
- Herbicide tolerant and/or insect resistant cotton is made into clothing or various other cotton products as well as cottonseed oil.
- Virus resistant papaya is sold in Hawaii, with some of the fruits imported to mainland US.
- Virus resistant crookneck squash is sold in small quantities.
- Herbicide tolerant and/or insect resistant soybean is made into soybean oil and fed to livestock. A small amount of soybean has been engineered to have more nutritious oil. Soybean for tofu and other products for direct human consumption is generally not genetically engineered.
- Herbicide tolerant sugar beet is made into sugar and fed to livestock.
Genetic engineering is a method, not a product, which means that there are many possible traits far beyond the well-known herbicide tolerant and insect resistant traits. Below, you can find a list of just some of the genetically engineered traits that have been created, organized by type. We’ll do our best to provide a short description of what gene was used to develop the trait of interest, with links to the relevant peer-reviewed article as well as a link to a fact-based summary in the news or a blog post if available. Of course, this is not an all inclusive list, as many traits are not published for a variety of reasons, or we simply may have not heard of it yet. Note that many of these traits have not been commercialized.
Have you read about an interesting trait that’s missing from this list? Please let us know, preferably with a link to a relevant peer-reviewed article. Fact-based popular press articles or blog posts are welcome as well.
Hungry for more? Find lists of biotech traits here:
- USDA APHIS’s list of Petitions for Deregulation of biotech crops both submitted and granted.
- ISAAA’s (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications) GM Approval Database.
- Information Systems for Biotechnology’s list of Field test release applications in the US maintained by Virginia Tech with a grant from USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service
- GM Crop Database, maintained by the Center for Environmental Risk Assessment, part of the International Life Sciences Institute.
- Living Modified Organism (LMO) Registry maintained by the Biosafety Clearinghouse, part of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
- US FDA site on Completed Consultations on Bioengineered Foods.
- GMO Compass hosts a database of Genetically Modified Food and Feed: Authorization in the EU.
Vitamin Enrichment and Consumer Oriented Traits
- Tomatoes that delay spoiling by expressing the spermidine protein from yeast. Blog post on the USDA blog: Yeast genes improve shelf life of tomatoes. Press release: Gene leads to longer shelf life for tomatoes, possibly other fruits, 2010. Overexpression of yeast spermidine synthase impacts ripening, senescence and decay symptoms in tomato.
- Safflower oil containing 40+% gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
- Tomatoes that delay spoiling by stopping expression of two genes involved in breaking down cell walls. Described in I say tomato… and Scientists at India’s NIPGR Create a Longer-Lasting Tomato. Enhancement of fruit shelf life by suppressing N-glycan processing enzymes by Meli et. al, 2010.
- Maize that has multiple enriched vitamins. Beta carotene was increased with genes in the carotenoid synthesis pathway, one from maize and one from a bacterium. Ascorbate was increased with a gene from rice for an enzyme that catalyzes a reaction that results in ascorbate. Folate was increased with a gene from the folate synthesis pathway from E. coli. Transgenic multivitamin corn through biofortification of endosperm with three vitamins representing three distinct metabolic pathways by Naqvi et. al, 2009.
- Rice that has enriched bioavailable iron with overexpression of an iron binding protein from rice. Iron fortification of rice seeds through activation of the nicotianamine synthase gene by Lee et. al, 2009.
- Lettuce and carrots that have enriched calcium with a calcium transporter gene from Arabidopsis. Described by Karl Haro von Mogel in Biofortified lettuce not a bitter pill. Nutritional impact of elevated calcium transport activity in carrots by Morris et. al, 2008. Biofortified and bioavailable: The gold standard for plant-based diets by Jeong and Guerinot, 2008. Sensory analysis of calcium-biofortified lettuce by Park et. al, 2008.
- Non-browning apples. Described in Q&A with Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ president Neal Carter.
- Non-browning, low-acrylamide potatoes. Described in Q&A with Haven Baker on Simplot’s Innate™ Potatoes.
- Soybeans with Omega-3 fatty acids
- Rice with beta carotene (Golden rice)
Vaccines and Medicines
- Rice that can treat acute diarrhea by expressing the human milk and saliva proteins lactoferrin and lysozyme. Discussed in the Wall Street Journal article Activism in the Time of Cholera: Anti-GMO groups keep the poor from getting help, 2009. These two products were produced by Ventria Bioscience.
- Carrot tissue culture expressing a medicine for Gaucher disease. A plant-derived recombinant human glucocerebrosidase enzyme–a preclinical and phase I investigation by Aviezer, et. al, 2009.
- Tobacco with no nicotine to help people quit smoking. Discussed in the Wired article Come to LeBow Country, 2003. In a randomized trial, “Quest” cigarettes made from the nicotine-free tobacco was shown to have no adverse affects relative to wild-type tobacco and was shown to help smokers quit: A randomized trial of nicotine replacement therapy in combination with reduced-nicotine cigarettes for smoking cessation, 2008.
- Tomatoes that contain edible vaccines. An immune response to a cholera protein expressed in tomato was acheived in mice. The researchers hypothesize that the fibrous flesh of the tomato protect the vaccine from being degraded in the digestive tract before it can be recognized by the immune system. Cholera toxin B protein in transgenic tomato fruit induces systemic immune response in mice by Jiang et. al, 2007.
- American chestnut trees that are resistant to blight, which has the potential to save the species in the US. Sexually mature transgenic American chestnut trees via embryogenic suspension-based transformation by Andrade, et. al, 2009. Press release: UGA Researchers Could Help Restore Devastated American Chestnut, 2009.
- Plums resistant to the plum pox virus, called HoneySweet plums.
- Mexican limes resistant to the Citrus tristeza virus using fragments of antibodies. Transgenic expression in citrus of single-chain antibody fragments specific to Citrus tristeza virus confers virus resistance by Cervera et. al, 2010.
- Papayas resistant to the papaya ringspot virus. Because the original transgenic papaya was only resistant to one strain of the virus, additional transgenic varieties were created. Broad-spectrum resistance to different geographic strains of papaya ringspot virus in coat protein gene transgenic papaya by Bau et. al, 2003.
- Yellow crookneck squash resistant to both Zucchini Yellow Mosaic Virus and Watermelon Mosaic Virus 2 by expressing virus coat proteins of both viruses. Resistance of Transgenic Hybrid Squash ZW-20 Expressing the Coat Protein Genes of Zucchini Yellow Mosaic Virus and Watermelon Mosaic Virus 2 to Mixed Infections by Both Potyviruses by Fuchs and Gonsalves, 1995
Environmental Stress Resistant
- Improved salt tolerance of transgenic wheat by introducing betA gene for glycine betaine synthesis by He et. al, 2010.
- A model plant that is salt tolerant. Shoot Na+ Exclusion and Increased Salinity Tolerance Engineered by Cell Type–Specific Alteration of Na+ Transport in Arabidopsis by Møller et. al, 2008. Discussed in the Guardian article GM crops are another tool in the struggle against poverty, 2009.
- Rice that is resistant to salty irrigation water, among other things by expressing two parts of the biosynthetic pathway for a sugar from E. coli. Trehalose accumulation in rice plants confers high tolerance levels to different abiotic stresses by Garg et. al, 2002.
- Drought tolerant maize
- Flood tolerant rice
- Grass that is more easily digested by cows, resulting in less methane emissions. Press release: ‘Burpless’ Grass Cuts Methane Gas From Cattle, May Help Reduce Global Warming, 2009.
- Tobacco that sucks up toxic metals lead and cadmium from soil. A plant genetically modified that accumulates Pb is especially promising for phytoremediation by Gisbert et. al, 2003.
- Snowdrop lectin is a protein produced by a small herbaceous plant that is toxic to some insects. Expression of the protein in maize caused an almost 50% reduction in aphids on the plants. Enhancement of resistance to aphids by introducing the snowdrop lectin gene gna into maize plants by Wang et. al, 2005. The same authors also showed an effect of the protein on Asian corn borer. Enhanced resistance of snowdrop lectin (Galanthus nivalis L. agglutinin)-expressing maize to Asian corn borer (Ostrinia furnacalis Guenee) by Wang et. al, 2005.
- Bt in maize and cotton
- LibertyLink corn and soybean are tolerant to glufosinate herbicide.
- Optimum GAT corn and soybean are tolerant to ALS-inhibitor category of herbicides.
- Roundup Ready corn and soybean are tolerant to glyphosate.
- Clearfield and IMI corn was developed by selection to be tolerant to imidazolinone herbicides. Some IMI varieties also are tolerant of some sulfonylurea and sulfonamide herbicides.
- Poast corn was developed by selection to be tolerant to sethoxydim herbicides.
- STS soybean was developed by selection to be tolerant to sulfonylurea herbicides.