The Food Choices We Make



I had spent over 20 years trying to understand why plant cells divide and how they do so. Some of this research involved isolating the genes from one plant and placing them into another. In the mid to late 1980s our experiments were conducted in laboratories, growth chambers, or greenhouses. Generally, what we did see of plants were single cells through a microscope. We were pleased to see that the cells divided and developed into plants in special growth chambers and, perhaps later be tested in the field. But the potential release of such plants into the environment raised concerns amongst the public. They worried that once released, such artificially engineered plants could negatively impact our ecosystem, plant diversity, and may even be dangerous if eaten. To protesters outside the institute we became monsters instead of scientists, the creators of Frankenstein food or “Franken food.”




Monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies can be used for specific detection of the product on the basis of classical (immunological) antibody–­antigen reaction.


Is a gram-negative bacteria used in the transfer of DNA between plants.


Addresses and resolves possible conflicts between factual information and morality. It examines crucial issues both in terms of appropriateness of choices and actions. It is a subject where science, philosophy, and law meet and deals the ­conditions and constraints under which we should apply new biotechnologies.


Application of biology, including the field of genetic engineering, to our everyday lives.

Certified reference material: 

Are measurement standards for testing and analysis of materials to ensure reliability and comparability of measurements in these field.

Criteria of risk: 

Frequency and scope of a harmful event occurring.


Cultivation of two types of cells in the same medium.

Codex Alimentarius Commission: 

The Commission was created in 1963 by FAO and WHO to develop food standards, guidelines, and related texts such as codes of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme.


Interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information, by means understood by both the sender and receiver.


People who use products.


Deoxyribonucleic acid (sometimes called nucleic acid). A biological polymer that contains and transmits, through replication and transcription, the genetic information of the organism. It is composed of nucleotide units called bases (A-adenine, T-thymine, Q-guanosine, C-Cytosine). It is the specific order of these bases that can code instructions what the organism will be like.

Domestication (of plants and animals): 

Adaptation of wild plants and animals into forms that are useful to humans.


Is the use of rational approach to examine and analyze moral concepts, questions, and resulting choices and actions in a specific area or situation. Whereas, what is considered as moral behavior may sometimes differ region to region, rules of ethical behavior should be universal. Thus, what may be moral may not entirely be ethical; however, what is ethical always contains a subset of moral concepts. In effect, ethics helps to define and incorporate the universal core of moral behavior. For a medical doctor, ethical rules mean, for example, to be helpful and do no harm, to respect a patient as a person, and to be nondiscriminatory.


Treatment of cells with an electrical current, resulting in the creation of temporary pores that allow an uptake of DNA into the cells.

Enzymes (restriction): 

A protein capable of catalyzing a reaction of a substrate.


Process of embryo formation.


Observations that can be measured, tested, and verified.

Functional foods: 

Is any food with health-promoting claims.

Gel electrophoresis: 

Is a technique whereby molecules are separated on the basis of their molecular weight and electric charge in a physical mixture (gel) submerged in a liquid medium. This technique is used, for example, to separate DNA, RNA, and proteins.

GM foods: 

Food that has been modified with the use of genetic engineering.

Genetic modification: 

Also termed “recombinant DNA technology” or “genetic engineering.” These are technique that involves the isolation of genetic material, splice, alter, recombine and transfer it from one organism to another. The genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating or natural recombination. The use allows selected individual genes to be transferred from one organism into another, even between nonrelated species. These techniques can be performed at various levels: from whole genome manipulations through chromosome manipulations to precise modification of single genes. Genetic modification has come to include the manipulation and alteration of the genetic material of an organism in such a way as to allow it to produce proteins with properties different from those normally produced, or to produce entirely foreign proteins altogether.


Is the unit of heredity. It is encoded in the form of a DNA sequence.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs): 

Organisms, which contain genetic information (usually one or more genes), that enriches its genome in a way which does not occur in nature.


Genetic characteristics of an organism.

Genetic engineering: 

The formation of new combinations of hereditary material by processes that do not occur in nature. The technology is sometimes called modern biotechnology, gene technology, gene cloning or recombinant DNA technology and refers often to genetically modifying living organisms.

Genetic information: 

The sum total of hereditary that is needed for a species to survive generation to generation.


A complete set of genetic instructions of an organism. The instructions exist as specific sequences of DNA or RNA.


Is the passing of specific characteristics (traits) from parents to offsprings.


A negative event that results in damage.


Source of danger identified on the basis of some intrinsic properties or probability of occurrence.


An organism harboring and supporting growth of another organism. The relationship could be parasitic (benefiting only of the two organisms) or symbiotic (benefiting both organisms).


A decision making process based on attitudes that help to distinguish correct and incorrect choices and actions, thus in the process defining the character of the individual, group, or a society. Morality is influenced by religion, regional societal values, beliefs, and “gut” feelings.


A process by which substances can be injected into cells using very small needles.

Nucleic acid: 

Composed of polynucleotides in which the nucleotide residues are linked in a specific sequence by phosphodiester bonds. It is usually a component of the DNA molecule.

Particle gun: 

A method by which DNA can be introduced into cells, based on the principle of shooting particles into cells coated with the DNA.

PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction): 

A technique for amplifying (multiplying) short segments of DNA by repeated cycles of DNA synthesis.


Observable characteristic of an organism resulting from the expression of the organism’s genes (its genotype).

Plant tissue culture: 

A technique to grow and differentiate plant cells in vitro, usually with the aim to regenerate a complete plant from single cells or clusters of cells.


Is a carrier DNA molecule that can replicate independently of the host chromosomal DNA. It is often used in genetic engineering to introduce foreign DNA into cells and help their replication therein. In such a case it is called a vector.


A large molecule composed of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that can form proteins. Any combination of amino acids can be used for the creation of proteins. This depends on a complex process that starts with the decision which genetic information of an organism is to be transcribed. Proteins are essential for the existence of living organisms. For example, all enzymes that enable cellular processes to proceed, are proteins.


Prudent foresight; actions taken to ensure good results.


Likelihood of an event taking place.


Concerning the people as a whole.


Exposure to danger, sometimes also defined as the probability of harm. The risk can be voluntary (accepting and knowing the dangers involved), nonvoluntary (not knowing the dangers) and involuntary (forced into a dangerous situation without consent).


Exchange of genetic material (DNA or RNA) between two individual organisms, resulting in a changed genetic makeup and properties. The exchange is heritable and permanent.


Copying of the genetic material.


Describes the magnitude of harm caused by a hazard and the frequency with which that hazard occurs.


Ribonucleic acid (sometimes called nucleic acid). A biological polymer that is usually involved in transcribing DNA information that can lead to the formation of proteins. It is composed of the same nucleotide units as DNA except for thymine that is replaced by U-Uracil. In some organisms, such as viruses, RNA performs similar function as DNA – containing and transmitting the genetic information of the organism.


Are complexes of RNA and proteins with a function to translate the genetic information of the cells into proteins.

Somatic (asexual) embryogenesis: 

Process of embryo formation without the involvement of sexual fertilization.

Substantial equivalence: 

Indication that the composition, nutritional value, or intended use of GM food has not been altered. If GMO products are substantially equivalent to the non-GM counterparts, they do not need to be labeled.


The association of two or more viruses acting at one time and affecting a change which one only is not able to make.


Visible or otherwise detectable phenotype abnormality arising from disease


An indication of something undesirable likely to happen.


Transfer of genetic information, usually from DNA onto RNA.

Transgenic plants: 

Plants containing artificially transferred pieces of DNA from other living organisms by means of genetic engineering.


A gene which has been transferred into another organism.


Reduced confidence in estimating the likelihood of an event taking place (see also probability). Uncertainty can be of quantitative or qualitative nature.

Virus strain: 

A group of similar virus isolates, that are serologically or immunologically related.


(a latin word means poison) is an infectious submicroscopic and filterable noncellular agent that multiplies only in living cells and often causes diseases.

X-ray crystallography: 

Allows determination of the arrangement of atoms on the basis of their crystal structure.

References – Key Resources

  1. Blaine K, Powell D (2001) Communication of food-related risks. AgBio Forum 4:179–185. The article can be downloaded from Google Scholar
  2. Coombs J (1986) Macmillan dictionary of Biotechnology. Macmillan books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  3. Daniell H Streatfield SJ, Wycoff K (2001) Medical molecular farming: production of antibodies, biopharmaceuticals and edible vaccines in plants. Trends Plant Sci 6(5):219–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Douma WT (2003) The precautionary principle: its application in international, European and Dutch law. T.M.C. Asser Press, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  5. European Commission (2002) Scenarios for co-existence of genetically modified, conventional and organic crops in European agriculture. European Commission Report EUR 20394Google Scholar
  6. Gaskell G, Bauer M, Durant J (eds) (2002) Biotechnology: the making of a global controversy ed. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. Giddings G, Allison G, Brooks D, Carter A (2000) Transgenic plants as factories for biopharmaceuticals. Nature Biotechnology 18(9):1151–1155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hodson A (1992) Essential Genetics. Bloomsbury, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. James C (2007) Global Review of Commercialised Transgenic Crops: ISAAA Briefs No36Google Scholar
  10. Marris C (2001) Public views on GMOs: deconstructing the myths. EMBO reports 21:545–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Pechan and deVries (2005) Genes On The Menu: Facts For Knowledge-Based Decisions, Springer Publishers, HeidelbergGoogle Scholar
  12. Reiss M (2002) Labelling GM foods-the ethical way forward. Nature Biotechnology 20(9):868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Reiss M, Strangham S (1996) Improving nature? Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  14. Tait J (2001) More Faust than Frankenstein: The European debate about the precautionary principle and risk regulation of genetically modified crops. Journal of Risk Research 4:175–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Thompson PB (2003) Value judgements and risk comparisons. The case of genetically engineered crops. Plant Physiology 132:10–16Google Scholar

Internet-Based References

  1. Australian Office of Gene technology: World Agricultural Biotechnology on GMOs: What is Biotechnology? What Is Gene Technology?
  2. Codex Alimentarius: including minutes of all their meetings.
  3. Eurobarometer 51.1 “The Europeans and the Environment”, conducted between April and May 1999, published in September 1999.
  4. Eurobarometer 52.1 “The Europeans and Biotechnology”, conducted between November and December 1999, published in March 2000.
  5. European Commission: The website provides access to the web pages of all Directorate Generals and as well according to subjects such as food safety.
  6. Articles and links on Co-existence can be obtained for example under
  7. Communication on the Precautionary Principle COM (2000). http://www.Eur-lex/en/com/index.html
  8. Positions paper for Codex Alimentarius CCGP-Codex Committee on General Principles 2000. http://www.Eur-lex/en/com/index.html
  9. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). Contains wealth of agriculture related information. For example information on principles for the Risk Analysis of Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnogy.
  10. German Federal Environmental Agency. Genetic Engineering and Organic Farming, Barth R et al.
  11. IPR helpdesk: source and guide to patent information in the European Union.
  12. OECD consensus documents on biosafety issues, including a series of document related GM plants.
  13. Pew Initiative: Future Uses Of Agricultural Biotechnology, Michael Rodemeyer.
  14. TWN (third world network): is involved in issues relating to development, the Third World and North-South issues. Biotechnology and biosafety is one of important issues.
  15. UK Patent Office home page.
  16. United Nations Environment Programme International Register on Biosafety: This Web site offers information from many sources on biosafety.
  17. USDA (US Department of Agriculture): good source of information on GM crop usage. For example Includes also information on Plant Variety Protection Act in the US.
  18. USEP (US Environmental Protection Agency): Bt plant pesticides risk and benefit assessments by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with links to background documents. and
  19. WTO: the global harmonisation of trade and intellectual property provision is sought through the World Trade Organisation, including issues such as TRIPS – the Agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Communication and Media ResearchLudwig Maximilians University MunichMunichGermany

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