Genetically modified soybean

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A genetically modified soybean is a soybean (Glycine max) that has had DNA introduced into it using genetic engineering techniques.[1]:5 In 1994 the first genetically modified soybean was introduced to the U.S. market, by Monsanto. Soy is a widely planted genetically modified crop that is used to produce genetically modified food.

Genetic modification in plants[edit]

To modify a soybean’s genetic makeup, the gene to be introduced into the soybean must first be isolated. If the gene does not display an obvious phenotype, or visible characteristic, a marker gene must be linked to it so the modified cells and unmodified cells can be distinguished. According to Dr. Peter Celec, a professor in the Slovakian Comenius University’s Department of Molecular Biology, the “marker genes typically confer resistance to a selective agent, often an antibiotic,” so the unmodified cells can easily be killed off to leave only modified cells behind, and the “other [gene] is meant to confer a desirable phenotype, which is often agronomic (herbicide, pest, stress resistance) or related to food quality (shelf-life, taste, nutritional value).”[2]:533 Once the gene to be put into the soybean’s DNA is isolated, there are several ways to insert the gene, though the most popular are by “biolistics,” by using Agrobacterium, and by electroporation.


Biolistics, more formally known as ballistic bombardment, is a process in which particles of a heavy metal element, such as tungsten or gold, are coated with the gene to be adopted by the plant and then fired, with a gene gun, into a sample of plant cells, as described by Professor Sibel Roller of South Bank University, London, and Susan Harlander, a vice president of Pillsbury’s research and development department. These particles penetrate the cell walls, leaving the genes free to


Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a type of bacteria that transfers its DNA via horizontal gene transfer to create tumors in plants. This makes it very useful to genetic engineering. Gene transfer using it happens when “a restriction enzyme is used to cut non-virulent plasmid DNA derived from A. tumefaciens and thus create an insertion point, into which the gene can be ligated. The engineered plasmid is then put into a strain of A. tumefaciens, which contains a ‘helper’ plasmid and plant cells are treated with the recombinant bacterium” in culture.[2] While this looks like a complicated concept, it is really only a genetic engineering version of cut and paste.


Electroporation is exactly what its name implies—it is the creation of pores by using electricity. Specifically, it is when a pulsed magnetic field is used to create pores in plant cells, “through which genes can be taken up, and in the form of naked DNA incorporated into the plant genome.”[2]

Gene knockout[edit]

Gene knockout, also known as antisense technology or gene neutralization, is used when a gene in a plant is undesirable or inhibits the function of the new gene that will be introduced. To “knock out” this gene, a noncoding strand of DNA (DNA that does not translate into any genes) is used to silence the undesirable trait.[2]:533

Examples of transgenic soybeans[edit]

The genetic makeup of a soybean gives it a wide variety of uses, thus keeping it in high demand. First, manufacturers only wanted to use transgenics to be able to grow more soy at a minimal cost to meet this demand, and to fix any problems in the growing process, but they eventually found they could modify the soybean to contain healthier components, or even focus on one aspect of the soybean to produce in larger quantities. These phases became known as the first and second generation of genetically modified (GM) foods. As Dr. Celec describes, “benefits of the first generation of GM foods were oriented towards the production process and companies, the second generation of GM foods offers, on contrary, various advantages and added value for the consumer,” including “improved nutritional composition or even therapeutic effects.”[2]:533

Roundup Ready Soybean[edit]

Roundup Ready Soybeans (The first variety was also known as GTS 40-3-2 (OECD UI: MON-04032-6)) are a series of genetically engineered varieties of glyphosate-resistant soybeans produced by Monsanto.

Glyphosate kills plants by interfering with the synthesis of the essential amino acids phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophan. These amino acids are called "essential" because animals cannot make them; only plants and micro-organisms can make them and animals obtain them by eating plants.[3]

Plants and microorganisms make these amino acids with an enzyme that only plants and lower organisms have, called 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS).[4] EPSPS is not present in animals, which instead obtain aromatic amino acids from their diet.[5]

Roundup Ready Soybeans express a version of EPSPS from the CP4 strain of the bacteria, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, expression of which is regulated by an enhanced 35S promoter (E35S) from cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV), a chloroplast transit peptide (CTP4) coding sequence from Petunia hybrida, and a nopaline synthase (nos 3') transcriptional termination element from Agrobacterium tumefaciens.[6] The plasmid with EPSPS and the other genetic elements mentioned above was inserted into soybean germplasm with a gene gun by scientists at Monsanto and Asgrow.[7][8] The patent on the first generation of Roundup Ready soybeans expired in March 2015.[9]


First approved commercially in the United States during 1994, GTS 40-3-2 was subsequently introduced to Canada in 1995, Japan and Argentina in 1996, Uruguay in 1997, Mexico and Brazil in 1998, and South Africa in 2001.[10]


GTS 40-3-2 can be detected using both nucleic acid and protein analysis methods.[11][12]

Generic GMO soybeans[edit]

Following expiration of Monsanto's patent on the first variety of glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready soybeans, development began on glyphosate-resistant "generic" soybeans. The first variety, developed at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, came on the market in 2015. With a slightly lower yield than newer Monsanto varieties, it costs about half as much, and seeds can be saved for subsequent years. According to its creator it is adapted to conditions in Arkansas. Several other varieties are being bred by crossing the original variety of Roundup Ready soybeans with other soybean varieties.[9][13]

Stacked traits[edit]

Monsanto developed a glyphosate-resistant soybean that also expresses Cry1Ac protein from Bacillus thuringiensis and the glyphosate-resistance gene, which completed the Brazilian regulatory process in 2010.[14][15][16]

Genetic modification to improve soybean oil[edit]

Soy has been genetically modified to improve the quality of soy oil. Soy oil has a fatty acid profile that makes is susceptible to oxidation, which makes it rancid, and this has limited its usefulness to the food industry.[17]:1030 Genetic modifications increased the amount of oleic acid and stearic acid and decreased the amount of linolenic acid.[17]:1031 by silencing, or knocking out, the delta 9 and delta 12 desaturases.[18][17]:1032 DuPont Pioneer created a high oleic fatty acid soybean with levels of oleic acid greater than 80%, and started marketing it in 2010.[17]:1038


The regulation of genetic engineering concerns the approaches taken by governments to assess and manage the risks associated with the development and release of genetically modified crops. There are differences in the regulation of GM crops between countries, with some of the most marked differences occurring between the USA and Europe. Regulation varies in a given country depending on the intended use of the products of the genetic engineering. For example, a crop not intended for food use is generally not reviewed by authorities responsible for food safety.[19][20]


There is general scientific agreement that food from genetically modified crops is not inherently riskier to human health than conventional food, but should be tested on a case-by-case basis.[21][22][23][24][25][26] GM crops also provide a number of ecological benefits.[27]

Critics have objected to GM crops on several grounds, including ecological concerns, and economic concerns raised by the fact these organisms are subject to intellectual property law. GM crops also are involved in controversies over GM food with respect to whether food produced from GM crops is safe and whether GM crops are needed to address the world's food needs. See the genetically modified food controversies article for discussion of issues about GM crops and GM food. These controversies have led to litigation, international trade disputes, and protests, and to restrictive legislation in most countries.[28]


  1. ^ Roller, Sibel and Susan Harlander. "Modern Food Biotechnology: Overview of Key Issues." Genetic Modification in the Food Industry: A Strategy for Food Quality Improvement. Ed. Roller, Sibel and Susan Harlander. London: Blackie, 1998. 5-26.
  2. ^ a b c d e Celec, Peter, et al. "Biological and Biomedical Aspects of Genetically Modified Food."Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 59.10 (Dec 2005): 531-40.
  3. ^ Purdue University, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Metabolic Plant Physiology Lecture notes, Aromatic amino acid biosynthesis, The shikimate pathway – synthesis of chorismate.[1]
  4. ^ Steinrücken, H.C.; Amrhein, N. (1980). "The herbicide glyphosate is a potent inhibitor of 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase". Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 94 (4): 1207–12. doi:10.1016/0006-291X(80)90547-1. PMID 7396959. 
  5. ^ Funke, Todd; Han, Huijong; Healy-Fried, Martha L.; Fischer, Markus; Schönbrunn, Ernst (2006). "Molecular basis for the herbicide resistance of Roundup Ready crops". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (35): 13010–5. Bibcode:2006PNAS..10313010F. doi:10.1073/pnas.0603638103. JSTOR 30050705. PMC 1559744. PMID 16916934. 
  6. ^ "GM Approval Database". International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. Archived from the original on 2011-08-04. Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  7. ^ Homrich MS et al (2012) Soybean genetic transformation: a valuable tool for the functional study of genes and the production of agronomically improved plants Genet. Mol. Biol. vol.35 no.4 supl.1
  8. ^ Padgette SR, et al (1995) Development, identification, and characterization of a glyphosate-tolerant soybean line. Crop Sci 35:1451-1461.
  9. ^ a b Fred Miller, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Communications (December 3, 2014). "Arkansas: ‘Look Ma, No Tech Fees.’ Round Up Ready Soybean Variety Released". AGFAX. Retrieved July 30, 2015. Monsanto’s patent on the first generation of Roundup Ready products expires in March 2015…. 
  10. ^ Cummins, Joe (2004-11-25). "Beware Monsanto’s "Vistive Soybeans"". Institute of Science in Society. Archived from the original on 2011-08-05. Retrieved 2011-08-06. 
  11. ^ Dong, Wei; Litao Yang1; Kailin Shen; Banghyun Kim; Gijs A. Kleter; Hans J.P. Marvin; Rong Guo; Wanqi Liang; Dabing Zhang (2008-06-04). "GMDD: a database of GMO detection methods" (PDF). BMC Bioinformatics 9 (260): 4–7. doi:10.1186/1471-2105-9-260. PMC 2430717. PMID 18522755. Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  12. ^ "GMO Detection method Database (GMDD)". GMO Detection Laboratory. Shanghai Jiao Tong University. Archived from the original on 2011-08-05. Retrieved 2011-08-05. 
  13. ^ Antonio Regalado (July 30, 2015). "Monsanto no longer controls one of the biggest innovations in the history of agriculture.". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved July 30, 2015. 
  14. ^ Monsanto's Bt Roundup Ready 2 Yield Soybeans Approved for Planting in Brazil - Crop Biotech Update (8/27/2010) |
  15. ^ Staff, Monsanto. August, 2009. Application for authorization to place on the market MON 87701 × MON 89788 soybean in the European Union, according to Regulation (EC) No 1829/2003 on genetically modified food and feed Linked from the GMO Compass page on the MON87701 x MON89788 event.
  16. ^ Monsanto's Bt Roundup Ready 2 Yield Soybeans Approved for Planting in Brazil - Crop Biotech Update (8/27/2010) |
  17. ^ a b c d Clemente, Tom E. and Edgar B. Cahoon. "Soybean Oil: Genetic Approaches for Modification of Functionality and Total Content." Plant Physiology. 151.3 (2009): 1030-40.
  18. ^ Anthony, 196-7
  19. ^ Wesseler, J. and N. Kalaitzandonakes (2011): Present and Future EU GMO policy. In Arie Oskam, Gerrit Meesters and Huib Silvis (eds.), EU Policy for Agriculture, Food and Rural Areas. Second Edition, pp. 23-323 – 23-332. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers
  20. ^ Beckmann, V., C. Soregaroli, J. Wesseler (2011): Coexistence of genetically modified (GM) and non-modified (non GM) crops: Are the two main property rights regimes equivalent with respect to the coexistence value? In "Genetically modified food and global welfare" edited by Colin Carter, GianCarlo Moschini and Ian Sheldon, pp 201-224. Volume 10 in Frontiers of Economics and Globalization Series. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing
  21. ^ American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Board of Directors (2012). Legally Mandating GM Food Labels Could Mislead and Falsely Alarm Consumers
  22. ^ A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001-2010) (PDF). Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. Biotechnologies, Agriculture, Food. European Union. 2010. doi:10.2777/97784. ISBN 978-92-79-16344-9. "The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies." (p. 16) 
  23. ^ Ronald, Pamela (2011). "Plant Genetics, Sustainable Agriculture and Global Food Security". Genetics 188 (1): 11–20. doi:10.1534/genetics.111.128553. PMC 3120150. PMID 21546547. 
  24. ^ American Medical Association (2012). Report 2 of the Council on Science and Public Health: Labeling of Bioengineered Foods
  25. ^ FAO, 2004. State of Food and Agriculture 2003–2004. Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome. "Currently available transgenic crops and foods derived from them have been judged safe to eat and the methods used to test their safety have been deemed appropriate. These conclusions represent the consensus of the scientific evidence surveyed by the ICSU (2003) and they are consistent with the views of the World Health Organization (WHO, 2002). These foods have been assessed for increased risks to human health by several national regulatory authorities (inter alia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, the United Kingdom and the United States) using their national food safety procedures (ICSU). To date no verifiable untoward toxic or nutritionally deleterious effects resulting from the consumption of foods derived from genetically modified crops have been discovered anywhere in the world (GM Science Review Panel). Many millions of people have consumed foods derived from GM plants - mainly maize, soybean and oilseed rape - without any observed adverse effects (ICSU)."
  26. ^ Other sources:
  27. ^ Andrew Pollack for the New York Times. April 13, 2010 Study Says Overuse Threatens Gains From Modified Crops
  28. ^ Wesseler, J. (ed.) (2005): Environmental Costs and Benefits of Transgenic Crops. Dordrecht, NL: Springer Press

Further reading[edit]

Anthony, Kinney J. and Susan Knowlton. “Designer Oils: The High Oleic Acid Soybean.” Genetic Modification in the Food Industry: A Strategy for Food Quality Improvement. Ed. Roller, Sibel and Susan Harlander. London: Blackie, 1998. 193-213.

Deng, Ping-Jian, et al. “The Definition, Source, Manifestation and Assessment of Unintended Effects in Genetically Modified Plants.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 88.14 (2008): 2401-2413.

Domingo, Jose’ L. “Toxicity Studies of Genetically Modified Plants: A Review of the Published Literature.”Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 47.8 (2007): 721-733.

“Genetically Modified Soybean.” GMO Compass. Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Dec 2008. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. <>

Kuiper, Harry A., et al. “Assessment of the Food Safety Issues Related to Genetically Modified Foods.” Plant Journal. 27.6 (Sep 2001): 503-28.

“Molecular Pharming.” GMO Safety. Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Oct 2009. Web. 22 Nov. 2009. <>

See also[edit]

External links[edit]