Scientists Create Test to Detect GMOs in Food

Corn is just chock-full of GMOs.
Corn is just chock-full of GMOs.
Malcolm Bedell/

In between plying the world with pollution and the flu, the Chinese have done something very useful for humanity: They've come up with the first test that's able to detect GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food.

Consumers are increasingly freaked the eff out wary about bioengineered foods, and there are growing demands for the monitoring and labeling of genetically modified food items. The new GMO detection method is called the MACRO test, according to Food Product Design. It combines two genetic methods to detect about 97% of the known commercialized modifications, which is almost twice as many as other existing tests. And the cost-effective test can be easily expanded to include future genetically modified crops, according to a new study published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

(The details are super complicated - the test uses a microchip "for multiplex amplification and an oligo microarray for the readout of multiple amplicons." Um, Sheldon?)

According to the Chinese researchers, by the end of 2012, farmers were growing genetically engineered crops on more than 420 million acres of land across 28 countries, affecting 25 different plant species - "an explosive growth in the planting and consuming of genetically modified organisms" in the last decade, they write. But apocalyptic terror doubts persist about the potential effects these crops could have on the environment and human health. Europe in particular has instituted strict regulations to monitor and control GMO products.

"Additionally, despite strict regulations, unauthorized GMOs (UGMs) have been occasionally released into the market. There is thus an urgent need for high-capacity monitoring of GMOs," the scientists write.

Although there are many ways to detect genetic modification in crops, no single test has previously existed that can perform a comprehensive scan.

Overall, the U.S. has been much more GMO-friendly than Europe. The Food and Drug Administration recently declined requests by federal judges to determine whether food can be labeled "natural" if it contains GMO ingredients. Cheerios announced a couple of weeks ago that it would be removing GMOs from its iconic cereal, but oats, its main ingredient, aren't a GMO crop anyway. Chipotle and Kashi say they are heading in a GMO-free direction, as is Whole Foods. But overall, if you live in the U.S. and you eat food, you're screwed.

Anyway, thanks China. We give you a lot of crap for melamine, carbon monoxide, MSG and H1N1 H7N9, but we'll give credit where credit is due. And thanks for the pandas, too. 

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