What are Genetically Modified Organisms?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a plant or animal that has been created using molecular biology techniques in order to enhance or choose a desired trait (Whitman, 2000). The most well known genetic engineering occurs on plants or crops where they add a gene in order to enhance the crops performance; for example: pesticide resistance or drought tolerance.

Insect Resistant Crops Through Bt Insertion

To engineer GMOs, plasmids, or small circular pieces of DNA are used. A gene is inserted into these plasmids by using restriction enzymes to remove a portion of the plasmid and replace it with the desired gene (Freeman, 2008). These plasmids are then inserted into cells, which are grown and incorporated into the plant. These plants are then grown with the new traits and pollinated to continue the production of these enhanced organisms. While these techniques have been tried in humans, specifically with the treatment of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), they are most successful in the engineering of crops including Bt corn, golden rice and the production of larger organisms to use for food sources.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have stated that there are more than 40 genetically modified plants that have completed the requirements for commercialization (Whitman, 2000). The prevalence of GM foods in United States grocery stores sell foods that contain a percentage of genetically-modified (GM) ingredients such as processed foods, vegetable oils, and breakfast cereals.


GM Regulation
Over thirteen countries grow genetically-modified crops with the United States having the majority of crops. Different countries have different rules and ways to regulate genetic modification. The United States has three separate government agencies that have authority of GM foods and GM modification (Whitman, 2000). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for evaluating GM plants for environmental safety. The USDA is responsible for evaluating if the plant is safe to grow or not. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for evaluating if the plant is safe to eat. The EPA often conducts risk assessment on pesticides that could cause harm to the environment and establishes the tolerance for pesticides. There is a tight limit that establishes the amount of pesticides that can be administered to plants as well as how much remains in the crop after processing.
Questions like these are evaluated by the USDA in order to ensure safety and compliance for all GM crops:
“ 1. Does it harbor insect pests?
2. It is a noxious weed?
3. Will it cause harm to indigenous species if it escapes from the farmer’s fields? (Whitman, 2000)"

The last assessment question has the largest relationship to GMOEffects and its purpose. Indigenous species are the most likely to be negatively impacted by the ingestion of GM crops, which is the purpose of studying genetic modification and its effects on aquatic environments in depth.


What are the effects of GMOs on land?
Genetically modified crops have the potential to cause adverse effects in the ecosystem. One specific example is insect resistant crops. A common strain called Bt has the potential to affect organisms in the soil, as these crops are a main source of carbon (Icoz & Stotsky, 2008). These crops may influence organisms living in soil including earthworms and plants. Furthermore, genetically modified crops were found to have the potential to cause unintended effects, which may be positive, negative or neutral. To determine these effects, scientists use metabolomics, proteomics and genetics, as DNA is the key difference from traditional crops (Cellini, et.al, 2004).

Can GMOs on land effect GMOs in aquatic environments?
It can be concluded from these two studies that genetically modified crops have the potential to alter the environment. More specifically we will focus on their potential effects in aquatic environments, as runoff from these crops will enter rivers and streams, and ultimately larger water systems like lakes and oceans. It is important to note that when introducing a new technology into the environment, it not only affects that area, but also has the potential to change many different systems, as water is the key connection between many land areas.