When genetic material is altered by genetic engineering techniques, a new organism is created. This involves the direct human manipulation of an organism's genome using modern DNA technology by either adding or deleting genes. I am going to describe how Monsanto creates a GM food because they are responsible for the largest share of the GMO crops planted globally; however, competitors offer very similar methods. Monsanto uses a gene from a natural soil bacteria that is immune to Round-Up Ready herbicide and combines it with a gene from E. coli bacteria. The resistant soil gene is used so Round Up can be used on the GMO food to control weed growth but not kill the seed or crop. The E. coli bacteria is used to invade a seed cell by creating tumors in the cell. This makes small tears in the cell, allowing it to be susceptible to alteration of the gene from the soil bacterial gene. Another gene called the “promoter gene” (which is derived from bacteria) is also added. This promoter gene develops the desired characteristics of promoting soil gene replication by overriding the cell's protective mechanisms. An antibiotic-resistant marker gene is also added to help scientists discover whether the genetic material made it into the cell. This newly altered cell or (GMO) is used in the production of seeds which eventually grow into corn or another GMO crop (Koons Garcia 2005).
Based on a landmark decision in 1978 between Diamond v. Chakrabarty, GMOs started to invade the United States crops (GM foods). This 5-4 Supreme Court decision ruled that patents could be put on life forms. Anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful manufacture or composition of matter can have it patented as long as it has not been previously patented. Chakrabarty’s invention of a genetically engineered bacterium capable of breaking down crude oil paved the way for many more GMOs to be patented. Based on peer-reviewed scientific studies and statements by microbiologists who worked on the Exxon spill, Chakrabarty’s GM microbes have never helped the cleanup process of oil spills. However, this decision was the basis for a wholesale patenting of over 11,000 seeds and life forms in the following decades (“Genetically Modified Food Controversies,” 2011).
Being able to patent living organisms presents some ethical concerns in society. First, is it ethically responsible for an individual or a corporation to have sole rights to a living organism, cell, microbe, etc? This has led some to try to patent plants and seeds which will then not be able to be cultivated without permission from the patent owner. For example, a patent was filed by Dr. Paul Cox for rights to the Samoan tree Homalanthus nutans because he had developed Prostratin, an anti-AIDS drug, from properties of the tree. Samoan healers had used the bark from this tree for years for its anti-viral nature to cure hepatitis. Samoans would not have been able to cultivate the tree without Dr. Cox’s permission. Fortunately, he was never granted a patent.
A social and environmental concern is that companies or an individual who patent a GMO have been able to lay claim to other organisms that it invades intentionally or not. For centuries, it has been the responsibility