Lab Wars: The Rise of Genetically Modified Insects

Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella)

Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella) is one of the genetically modified insects currently being studied. (Photo credit: sankax)


With many concerned over the use of genetically modified organisms in our food, there is something else that is being introduced into our natural environment – genetically modified insects. GM insects are currently being developed to help kill certain pests that feed on cabbage, broccoli, and many fruits. This may help reduce pesticide exposure to consumers, yet many are against this  technology when it comes to animals and insects. In the long run, will it be helpful or harmful?

What Are Genetically Modified Insects?

Genetically Modified Organisms (or GMO for short) are organisms that have had their DNA altered in some way to bring about a certain outcome. GMO food, for example, is usually altered to contain more nutrients, or to survive frost or certain insects. There is some concern as to whether these foods should be allowed into the food system. Many individuals seek to avoid genetically modified foods by choosing certified organic over conventionally grown crops.

When it comes to insects, many have been genetically modified to produce a certain outcome. This practice usually centers around farming and growing of crops. Genetically modified insects contain alterations to their genetics that make them particularly deadly to harmful insects that feed on certain crops. The company that is planning to release these insects into the wild promotes this practice as a “greener alternative to pesticides and insecticides”.

Are Genetically Modified Insects Harmful to Human Health?

There is very little evidence yet to show whether or not genetically modified insects are harmful to human health, or the health of our natural environment. Critics to GM insects voice the possibility that the eggs of these pests may be laid on certain crops, resulting in the accidental ingestion of these genetically modified eggs by human consumers. Since there is no research to show whether this would be harmful or not, many argue that genetically modified insects need to go through more rigorous testing before being released on a large scale.

The use of genetically modified insects is no doubt an interesting, and controversial subject in today’s agriculture. Most countries have yet to introduce genetically modified insects into our natural environment because experts are unsure as to whether these GM insects will be resistant to certain types of pesticides or insecticides themselves. This is an area of research that is currently in development. With good intentions, there may be a way to help crops survive and flourish by fighting fire with fire, or in this case, beneficial insect with harmful insects.

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