Where can I find information about genetic modification?
Entry last updated: 26/05/22
Genetic modification (GM) is when the genome of an organism (like a plant or an animal) is changed when new genetic material is added. This could be a gene that has a desired trait that changes an organism's characteristics eg making a plant better at fighting disease or tastier to eat.
Genetic engineering (GE) used to mean different techniques for changing the genetics of different organisms. This could include crossbreeding or selective breeding, which humans have used to change plants or animals for thousands of years, as well as things like gene manipulation. Since about the 1970s genetic engineering has meant things like recombinant DNA technology, or gene cloning. In this entry we'll show you where to find information about how genetic modification works, the technologies involved, New Zealand laws around genetic modification and the controversy about its safety and benefits.
What is genetic engineering?
Have a look at these websites to find out more about genetic modification.
Science Learning Hub is a website for Aotearoa New Zealand students and the information is written by scientists and educators.
- Enter the keywords 'genetic modification' into the search bar.
- Have a look at the short video that explains genetic modification, and explore the other videos and articles that come up in your search.
For more articles, try a different search pathway.
- This time, use the keywords 'genetic engineering'.
- Here you will find articles about DNA cloning and answers to questions like What is biotechnology?
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.
On this Aotearoa New Zealand website, local experts provide information for journalists on science-related issues.
- Enter the keywords 'genetic modification' into the search at the top of the page.
- Choose articles like Redefining genetic modification – Expert reaction and Genetic modification explained.
Tips: Websites that have .com or .co in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About us link on this website. That can tell you what the company’s mission and values are.
This is an EPIC resource. EPIC is a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It’s put together especially for Aotearoa New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions like this.
- Search for 'genetic modification' to find the article called genetically modified organism (GMO).
- Search for 'genetic engineering' and choose genetic engineering to read about the history, processes and techniques including recombinant DNA technology.
Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.
Gene editing technologies
Gene editing technologies like CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) systems are used to change genes encoded in DNA, using a method called gene splicing. Have a look at these websites to find out more about this technology.
This is another EPIC resource and it has lots of information about genetically modified organisms, genetic engineering and gene therapy. Remember to chat to an AnyQuestions librarian or your school librarian for a password first.
- Go to Browse topics and choose from the alphabetical list.
- Here you will find topics like CRISPR, and Genetically Modified Organisms, Genetic Engineering and more.
This Aotearoa New Zealand website provides information on current issues for students and teachers.
- Select the section Major issues and projects.
- Choose Gene editing in Aotearoa or Gene editing technologies including CRISPR.
Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the Who we are link on this website. That can tell you what the organisation’s mission and values are.
New Zealand Legislation
In Aotearoa New Zealand we have laws that say what we are allowed to do with GM and what's prohibited. One of these laws is the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 which covers genetic modification in New Zealand. The Act itself is quite long, but it is nicely summarised on the following website.
This government organisation is responsible for caring for the environment and as part of this they administer the laws around genetic modification in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- Enter the keywords 'genetic modification' into the search along the top of the page.
- Have a look at the publication Genetic modification - The New Zealand approach.
- To find specific information, look at the different chapter headings down the right hand side of the page.
Tips: We like sites like this because they’re reliable. You can tell because of their web address – they have either .govt or .ac, meaning they are from government or educational organisations. They’re also New Zealand sites, so relevant for us.
Controversy (advantages and risks)
Genetically modified organisms have the potential for both good and bad impacts on the economy, the environment, human health and medicine. There are many different opinions about the benefits and risks. Some of these are:
Pest control : using GM to control or eradicate introduced pests such as possums and wasps.
GM in the food chain : genetically modifying food crops.
Gene therapy : genetic modification of humans, or medicines, to treat or cure genetic diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis, or Haemophilia.
Explore these GM controversies as well as others using the EPIC resources below. Remember to chat to an AnyQuestions librarian or your school librarian for a EPIC password first.
This website has news articles, statistics and other information about GM and other important global issues including the benefits and risks of genetically modified foods.
- Find the Browse Issues button.
- Go to the topic Genetically Modified Foods.
Opposing Viewpoints has some great essays arguing both for, and against, Genetic Modification.
- Search for 'genetic modification'.
- Or use Browse Issues to find headings like Genetic Engineering and Genetically Modified Food.
Tips: Opposing Viewpoints in context brings up lots of different types of results, news articles, primary sources etc. To narrow your search results down to just the viewpoint essays, click on the word Viewpoints at the top of the result list.
Māori and Genetic Modification
Genetic modification also has spiritual and cultural implications. Have a look through this site for more.
This website also has information about the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification. This commission was formed to look into and report on issues about genetic modification in Aotearoa New Zealand.
- Select Publications at the top of the page.
- Search for 'genetic modificaton.'
- Find Report of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification.
- Read Chapter 11. Te Tiriti o Waitangi, on page 298
- If you don't want to read the full document, take a look at the Executive Summary at the start of the report. An executive summary gives you the key points of a report.
Tips: This report is in a PDF format. You can use the text search box to search for specific words such as 'tikanga' in PDF documents. You can usually get to the text search box by clicking on the magnifying glass icon at the top of the page. Another way to open a text search box is to use Ctrl F.
Tips: When looking for Māori viewpoints, try using Te Reo Māori words in your searches. For example you could try Tikanga, mātauranga Māori, Whakapapa, Kaitiakitanga, Mauri.
Your school library or local public library may also have books. Here are some suggested titles:
- Genetic modification: should humans control nature? by Leon Gray
- Genetically modified crops and food edited by Natalie Regis
- Genetically modified foods by Michael Centore.
SCIS no: 1903584