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10 Times Humanity Fought Against Nature (and Won)


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Genetically Engineered Crops
Dr. Stephen Mugo shows pictures of the stem borer, a pest that destroys entire corn harvests in Kenya. Mugo is one of many African scientists experimenting with bio-engineered food in order to grow heartier crops that will reduce hunger and malnutrition. Sudarsan Raghavan/MCT/MCT via Getty Images
Dr. Stephen Mugo shows pictures of the stem borer, a pest that destroys entire corn harvests in Kenya. Mugo is one of many African scientists experimenting with bio-engineered food in order to grow heartier crops that will reduce hunger and malnutrition. Sudarsan Raghavan/MCT/MCT via Getty Images

If you pay any attention to the news, you've probably heard something about genetically engineered (GE) foods, which include crops whose DNA has been altered to make them look, taste, grow or nourish better than they do naturally.

These crops tend to get a lot of negative press, which is understandable: Who doesn't get a little nervous when scientists start messing with nature? Certainly, there are important concerns that shouldn't be discounted, but let's take a minute to look at some of the ways we've benefitted from trying to beat nature at her own game.

In 1992 Calgene's Flavr Savr tomatoes became the first GE crop approved by the United States Department of Agriculture for commercial production, and their use has exploded ever since [source: Rangel].

Some of the biggest successes have been in the development of plants that resist typical stressors, like pests, disease, drought and frost. For example, scientists have developed a corn variety that essentially produces its own pesticide to fight off the European corn borer and a plum that resists the plum pox virus. GE crops can also be altered to increase nutritional content; it's a concept that's being implemented in rice to increase its vitamin A content and prevent a deficiency of that nutrient in the 50 percent of the world's population that relies on the grain.

And remember the Flavr Savr tomato? It's now one of many crops modified for a longer shelf life, a quality which may help reduce food waste [source: Phillips].