Consumers want to know: Does genetic manipulation causes unintended changes in food quality and composition? Are genetically modified foods less nutritious than their non-GM counterparts, or different in unknown ways?
Despite cultivation and testing of GM foods, questions linger in consumers' minds, and a new study demonstrates a potentially more powerful approach to answering them.
In research led by Owen Hoekenga, a Cornell University adjunct assistant professor, scientists extracted roughly 1,000 biochemicals, or "metabolites," from GM tomatoes bred to delay ripening.
The researchers then compared this "metabolic profile" from the GM tomatoes to the profile of its non-GM variety, finding no significant differences overall.
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Although the GM tomato was distinct from its parent, its metabolic profile still fell within the "normal" range of biochemical diversity exhibited by the larger group of varieties, even though the biochemicals related to fruit ripening showed a significant difference.
The finding suggests little or no accidental biochemical change due to genetic modification in this case, as well as a "useful way to address consumer concerns about unintended effects" in general, Hoekenga says.
Hoekenga says the FDA already requires developers of GM crops to compare a handful of key nutritional compounds in GM varieties relative to their non-GM parents. The process is designed to catch instances where genetic manipulation may have affected nutritional quality, for example.
But comparing a GM variety to diverse cultivars can also help scientists and consumers put into context any biochemical changes that are observed.