How to Answer Your Kids’ GMO Questions

Written By Stephanie Burton
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Super Hero Apple

What kid doesn’t like a good superhero story? Did you know that plants can be superheroes, too? Thanks to a process called genetic modification, we can help plants defend themselves against all sorts of bad guys in the environment. We do this by creating GMOs. But sometimes it’s hard to help kids understand this technology. There are different feelings about GMOs, but they have superpowers worth sharing.

What does GMO mean? The letters stand for genetically modified organism. In this example, we’ll discuss crop plants with genes that were modified to give the plants new characteristics, such as the ability to defend themselves against pests. All living things have DNA, and it is DNA that makes up genes, which tell the cells of living things what to do. It’s what drives hair color or eye color in people, and, as we’ll see, other characteristics or traits in plants.

A Call for Help

Crop plants need protection from all kinds of enemies, like pests, invasions of weeds or surviving a drought when the rain doesn’t come. Think about it: Plants can’t get up and walk away, so how do they stay safe? In the past, tools such as chemical pesticides or a lot of manual weeding took care of these types of enemies. Today, you can use things like plants made to create armor (pesticides) that protect it from various enemies (pests).

Superhero Plants

GMOs superheroes pull quote

GMO plants are just like any other plant, but they have a gene that could make them like a superhero. For example, say we find a bacteria that makes a bad-tasting substance (protein) so if harmful bugs eat it, they get a really bad tummy ache and can’t eat anymore. Scientists use tools to find the gene that makes the icky taste, take the gene out of the bacteria and put it into the plant using more cool tools. The plant now makes the protein the bugs don’t like and, ta-da, is defending itself from the bugs!

Dastardly Villains

One thing to keep in mind is that the scientists who help create GMOs have to do a LOT of testing to make sure our superhero plants don’t turn into villains! In this example, the superhero crop has a new gene that makes it taste bad to certain bugs. But it IS OK for beneficial insects like ladybugs or honeybees or pollinators to be around. In this way, the bad bugs can try to attack the crop plant, but they can’t hurt it. The crop will still grow and go on to produce a harvest.

Now you have a new educational but entertaining story to tell your kids at bedtime or while walking through the grocery store. So, the next time you are driving through the country, just think that you could be looking at fields full of superheroes!