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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Winter 2010
DOI: 10.5062/F4P848V

URLs in this document have been updated. Links enclosed in {curly brackets} have been changed. If a replacement link was located, the new URL was added and the link is active; if a new site could not be identified, the broken link was removed.

[Board accepted]

Science and Technology Resources on the Internet

Selected Internet Resources on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Erin O'Toole
Science and Technology Librarian
University of North Texas Libraries
Denton, Texas

Copyright 2010, Erin O'Toole. Used with permission.



Genetically modified organisms, commonly referred to as GMOs, are organisms which have had foreign deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) inserted into their DNA. The resulting organisms are also referred to as being genetically modified (GM), genetically engineered (GE) or transgenic. The foreign DNA enables the organisms to produce non-native proteins, which give the organisms new and desired characteristics. An example of a GMO would be a strain of corn that produces a foreign protein which confers protection against a species of insect. Techniques developed in the field of molecular biology have made it possible to genetically modify plants, animals and microorganisms, such as bacteria.

Scientists began creating GMOs in the 1970s, but the resulting organisms did not attract widespread attention because their use was limited to scientific research, and not consumer goods (see below - Historical Events in Biotechnology). The discovery of restriction enzymes in 1970 made genetic engineering possible. These proteins recognize a sequence in DNA and make a staggered cut in the molecule, which leaves one strand longer than the other. The "sticky" longer strand becomes a site where foreign DNA with a matching cut can be inserted. Common GMOs in the science laboratory are bacteria that have had foreign DNA, for example, mouse DNA, introduced into them for the purpose of creating large amounts of the foreign DNA or protein for study.

GMOs began to gain public attention when they were applied to pharmacology and agriculture in the 1980s (see below - Historical Events in Biotechnology). By the early 1980s, GE bacteria were being used to produce drugs for humans. The first GE drug approved by the U.S. Federal Drug and Food Administration for human use was Humulin, an insulin drug produced by Genentech. The first field test of a GE plant, tobacco, also occurred early in the decade. Europeans were the first to raise the alarm that GMOs in the human food supply might be deleterious to both humans and the environment. The debate over the safety, ethics and regulation of GMOs is currently active in the United States; therefore, numerous online resources are available for those who wish to research GMOs.


This webliography directs the librarian or researcher to the most professional and scholarly resources that will give an overall understanding of GMOs in agriculture and the controversy surrounding them. While the emphasis is on agricultural uses of GMOs, information about pharmacological uses of GMOs can be found in the same resources. The webliography excludes resources appropriate for grades K-12. The author strived to find resources that will give an overall balanced view of GMOs. The General resources educate the user about the history of GMOs, the process of creating them, and an overview of their benefits and dangers. The remaining resources delve deeper into GMO advocacy, production, regulation, and scientific research.


The author has bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, and thus is familiar with the journal article databases and scholarly journals that cover the topic of GMOs. The FDA web site was the first regulatory agency the author visited, and it linked to other U.S. agencies and international agencies, plus listed the names of major companies producing GMOs. The author used Google to locate general information, organizations, advocates and news sites, and searched with the following terms: GMOs, genetically modified organisms, genetically modified plants, genetically modified animals, and genetic engineering. The criteria used to select web sites were: 1) the web site is currently active and the recommended documents were created between 2000 and the present, 2) the organization's staff has professional qualifications, 3) the web site is professionally designed and maintained, and 4) the organizations are mainstream, rather than fringe, are constructively and regularly involved in the GMO debate, and have a significant number of members.

Resource Categories

Agencies -- U.S. Government
Agencies -- International
Databases -- Open Access
Journals -- Open Access
Organizations and Advocates


The General resources begin with an outstanding overview of GMOs, followed by two tools that will increase the researcher's understanding of all the resources in this webliography. The last three resources are images of the genetic modification of bacteria, plants and animals. The author recommends these resources because the concept of genetic modification is difficult to comprehend without visual aids.

Genetically Modified Foods: Harmful or Helpful, A Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) Discovery Guide
CSA, respected vendor of research databases, has created a series of Discovery Guides to introduce researchers to a variety of subjects. Each guide includes the following sections: Overview, Key Citations, Web Sites, Glossary, Conferences, and Editor. The editor of this particular guide is a CSA Senior Editor who has an M.S. in Biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University. This is an excellent introductory resource that covers the definition, benefits, criticisms and regulation of GMOs and is the recommended starting place for any research on the topic of GMOs.

The Biotechnology Institute
The Institute is a national, nonprofit organization with the mission of educating the public, teachers and students about the benefits and promise of biotechnology. The board members are mainly executives from biotechnology corporations, so this is an advocacy group with a pro-biotechnology bias. The value of the web site for GMO research lies in two unbiased web pages: the Glossary at {} and Historical Events in Biotechnology at {}. The Glossary is an extensive list of bioengineering and regulatory terms and definitions that will help the user understand the rest of the resources in this webliography. Historical Events in Biotechnology is a timeline that places GMOs in their context between 1750 BC (Sumerians brewing beer) and 2003 (the death of Dolly the cloned sheep). It may surprise researchers to learn that GMOs have been used as tools in molecular biology since the early 1970s, and have only drawn the attention of the general public since their introduction into human foods.

Genetic Engineering Diagram, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
The diagram visualizes the genetic modification of a microorganism, which enables the bacterium to produce human proteins. The image clearly shows how restriction enzymes cut linear DNA, leaving "sticky" ends which can be inserted into circular DNAs called plasmids. The plasmids containing human DNA are incorporated by the bacteria, and then the bacteria's own machinery can produce the human proteins.

A Basic Primer on Biotechnology, Agriculture and University Extension, North Dakota State University
The valuable feature of this web page is Figure 2., The Basic Process of Plant Transformation with Agrobacterium and the Gene Gun. The image clarifies two complicated methods of creating a GM plant. Agrobacterium tumefaciens is a bacteria that causes tumors in woody plants by means of a DNA circle, or plasmid, which inserts itself into a plant's genome and is translated into a tumor-inducing protein. Scientists have used Agrobacterium to introduce foreign, desirable genes into plants, thus genetically modifying them. The user who wants molecular level detail of genetic engineering will find the entire web page with text and additional figures useful.

Genetically Engineered Animals, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
The FDA provides an easily-understood diagram of the process to create a GE animal, with a pharmaceutical producing goat as the example. The figure is also available as a printer-friendly PDF.

Agencies - U.S. Government

Three U.S. government agencies regulate different aspects of GMOs: the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The regulation of GMOs appears to be transparent because the involved agencies post industry applications for GMO development and the agencies' assessments on their web sites. It takes some understanding of genetic engineering for the user to comprehend the documents, but all of the information is there for the public to read.

Biotechnology, Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS), U.S. Department of Agriculture
APHIS is the branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for regulating GMOs that may cause harm to plants or animals. This page lists all of APHIS' inspection duties related to GMOs, which include regulating the introduction of GMOs that might be plant pests, regulating the import and export of GE animals and animal products, and registering facilities that use GM animals.

Biotechnology Program under Toxic Substances Control Act, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The EPA regulates products of biotechnology, including GM microorganisms, under the 1997 interpretation of the Toxic Substances Control Act entitled, "Microbial Products of Biotechnology; Final Regulation under the Toxic Substances Control Act." The web site provides the text of the regulation and of supporting documents which further detail the regulation's implementation. Companies that wish to commercialize a GE microorganism or release it into the environment must notify the EPA and obtain approval. The EPA has posted these notifications and the EPA's assessments from 1987 to the present on the web site.

Briefing Room: Agricultural Biotechnology, Economic Research Service (ERS), U.S. Department of Agriculture
The ERS provides information about economic issues in agriculture. This specific briefing gives access to lengthy reports and data files concerning the impact of GMOs on the U.S. agricultural economy. Sample titles are "The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States" and "Economic Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology." ERS also offers a Glossary of agricultural biotechnology terms and Related Links leading to other U.S. government agencies.

Genetically Engineered Animals, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The FDA regulates the development and use of GM animals. This web page links to the final guidance for the industry released by the FDA in January 2009 -- CVM GFI #187 "Regulation of Genetically Engineered Animals Containing Heritable Recombinant DNA Constructs." The rest of the links on the page are related to the final guidance: Draft Guidance Information, Industry Q&A, Consumer Q&A, and Approvals under the guidance. The questions and answers for consumers are particularly valuable because they cover what a GE animal is and how it differs from a clone, the types of GE animals being produced, the steps in the FDA review process, the environmental effects of the animals, and more.

Plant Biotechnology for Food and Feed, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The FDA also regulates human foods and animal feeds that are derived from GM plants, according to the 1992 "Statement of Policy: Foods Derived from New Plant Varieties." The policy is available at this web page, as well as the consultation procedures and pre-market notifications required of the GE plant industry.

Plant Incorporated Protectants (PIPs), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The EPA regulates all pesticides used in the U.S., including proteins, or PIPs, produced by plants which have been engineered with foreign DNA. This web page links to documents describing the history of regulating PIPs, EPA regulations, and environmental assessment reports. The user can also determine which PIPs have been registered by EPA, and which companies have been granted an EPA Experimental Use Permit to develop data for the registration of a PIP. The site is a rich source for names of companies that are involved in the GMO industry.

United States Regulatory Agencies Unified Biotechnology Web site
In a rare case of government efficiency, the three U.S. government agencies that regulate GMOs have published a joint web site to explain their coordinated roles. The web site is one of the deliverables resulting from the 1986 policy "Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology," and is a one-stop site for finding all federal laws and regulations pertaining to GMOs and the role of each agency. The other beneficial features at the site include: a database of all GM crops for food and feed which have passed regulatory review, FAQs, government contacts, and free templates for the web pages and database. Interestingly, the site is hosted and maintained by yet another agency, the Center for Biological Informatics of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Agencies - International

Biosafety Web Pages, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB)
The ICGEB was established in 1983 with the mission of assisting developing countries with training and development in biotechnology, and has grown to 59 member countries. The purpose of the Biosafety Web Pages is to make available scientific information about the safety of biotechnology products, including GMOs, and to help member countries regulate the products. The pages are an incredible portal to the following resources: biosafety databases created by ICGEB and other organizations (see in particular the Agricultural databases), biotechnology news from ICGEB and 12 other organizations, and a library of international organizations, treaties and publications, all concerned with biotechnology.

Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
FAO embraces the great potential of GMOs to improve the lives of people in developing countries, yet recognizes the dangers of unregulated use of biotechnology. The web site contains FAO's "Statement on Biotechnology," and describes the organization's activities related to GMOs and its 192 member countries. The site also serves as a central posting location for biotechnology policy documents from member countries, with 18 countries plus the European Union participating thus far. FAO's Biotechnology in Developing Countries (FAO-BioDeC) is a database of information from 70 countries about GMOs being used in or developed for agriculture. A Glossary provides the user with definitions to improve understanding of the site's documents, and a News section keeps the user current on international events in agricultural biotechnology. The web site is available in six languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.


Conversations about Plant Biotechnology, Monsanto Company
Monsanto is the producer of Roundup Ready® Corn 2, a GE corn with herbicide tolerance, and other GE crop plants. This elaborate section of the Monsanto web site provides videos, facts, and resources about the benefits of GM plants for farmers and consumers. Web site visitors can subscribe to a newsletter and RSS video feed.

DuPont Biotechnology, DuPont Company
DuPont is the parent company of Pioneer Hi-Bred, which produces more than 40 versions of corn that has been genetically transformed with the microorganism Bacillus thuringiensis and other GM crop plants. This section of the DuPont web site explains the company's guiding principles in biotechnology development, the work of the Biotechnology Advisory Panel, the benefits of GM crop plants, and the safety measures taken by the company. The Science Knowledge web pages in particular provide in-depth, clearly written responses to questions about GMOs. The explanations have references to scholarly journals; unfortunately the list of Selected Readings is alphabetized by the journal title rather than the author's last name.

Databases - Open Access

The U.S. government provides free databases of two types that allow citizens to investigate the topic of GMOs. The first type is regulatory databases that contain information about GMOs that have been reviewed and assessed by government agencies. The second type is databases of citations or journal articles that allow the user to identify relevant books and articles. The full-text copies of some books and articles are available, but in many cases the user will have to buy a copy or find one at a local library or through that library's interlibrary loan program.

U.S. Database of Completed Regulatory Agency Reviews, United States Regulatory Agencies Unified Biotechnology Web site
The database is a record of all GM crop plants that have been reviewed and approved for use in human food and animal feed. The user can access the information through various searches: common name of crop, scientific name of crop, the type of genetic engineering (e.g., insect resistance), applicant name, and keyword. Currently, the database includes 119 fruits, vegetables and grains with traits that vary from herbicide tolerance to delayed fruit ripening.

National Agriculture Library (NAL) Catalog, U.S. Department of Agriculture
The physical NAL is limited to facilities in Washington, D.C. and Beltsville, Maryland, but its highly functional catalog is available online. The catalog, also known as AGRICOLA, provides keyword, title, author and subject access through basic and advanced searches to the largest agricultural research collection in the world. Many of the articles and reports are available electronically, and the majority of books may be ordered through interlibrary loan from the NAL, which may have a fee depending on the institution with which the user's library is affiliated (see Keyword searches for [genetically modified organisms] or [genetically engineered organisms], and subject searches for [transgenic organisms] or [agricultural biotechnology] will retrieve a wealth of results.

PubMed MEDLINE, U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NIH)
PubMed is an extensive citation and abstract journal article database including the biomedical database, MEDLINE, and life science journals (see for a full explanation of the database's contents). Some citations link to the full-text articles in PubMed Central, NIH's depository for biomedical and life science literature, and at publishers' web sites. PubMed offers both basic and advanced searches, and uses the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) controlled vocabulary. Searches using the following MeSH Major Topics are fruitful: animals, genetically modified; organisms, genetically modified; plants, genetically modified; and genetic engineering. See "How to Get the Journal Article" at when the article is not available in full text.

Journals -- Open Access

There are numerous open access journals of high scientific quality that cover the topic of GMOs. The majority of the journal articles will be about the creation, characterization, and detection of GMOs, and a limited number will be concerned with the dangers or ethics of the organisms. The journal databases all offer basic and advanced searches for the user to find relevant articles. Recommended keyword searches in these resources are: GMOs, genetically modified organisms, genetically modified plants, genetically modified animals, genetically engineered organisms, genetically engineered plants, genetically engineered animals, transgenic organisms, transgenic plants and transgenic animals.

BioMed Central (BMC): The Open Access Publisher
BMC publishes 205 peer-reviewed journals in the fields of biomedicine and life sciences that are open to the public. Thomson Reuters does citation tracking of many BMC journals, and several of the journals have significant impact factors. The research must first register with BMC, and then can do quick or advanced searches of the entire journal collection or a selected subset. Recommended journals for articles about GMOs are: BMC Biotechnology, BMC Genomics, BMC Plant Biology, and Genome Biology.

PubMed Central
This archive of free digital biomedical and life science journals was developed and is maintained by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Publishers volunteer to participate, but must meet the National Library of Medicine's selection criteria to be included. Often the most current issues, the past six months to one year, are not available. The user can browse journal titles, or perform basic or advanced searches for articles. Recommended journals are Plant Cell, Plant Physiology, Journal of Experimental Botany, EMBO Reports, Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, and Environmental Perspectives. The user can choose to do keyword or Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) searches; see the PubMed MEDLINE entry above for recommended MeSH Major Topics.


GE News, Organic Consumers Association (OCA)
OCA represents 850,000 members and campaigns for health and sustainability in the United States, with genetic engineering being one of its major targets. The GE news items are gathered from a multitude of online sources; each news item has a Straight to the Source link that allows the reader to evaluate the source of the news. An archive that goes back through January 1996 is available and includes archived scientific studies. This is a rich resource for news about the dangers of GMOs for humans and the environment.

Environmental News Network (ENN)
ENN has been supplying news about environmental issues and sustainability for the past 15 years and its daily e-newsletter reaches 36,000 subscribers, including environmental leaders and heads of sustainability. The staff of six provides some original content, but mainly aggregates news from environmental non-profit organizations and corporations, high-quality environmental web sites and major wire services. The Agriculture section includes news items about the impact of GMOs on the environment, and the searchable news archive extends back to 1970. Users can subscribe to the e-newsletter and RSS feeds, and follow ENN on Twitter.

News and Media, BIO: Biotechnology Industry Organization
BIO is the largest advocacy organization for biotechnology companies. Its news department provides a variety of media: articles, blogs, podcasts, radio and press releases, and video and audio clips. News items supportive of agricultural biotechnology and GMO issues are plentiful in this resource.

Organizations and Advocates

Agricultural Biotechnology, The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology ended in 2007, but the web site will indefinitely host the 20-plus reports, fact sheets and polls generated during the project. The purpose of the initiative was to bring together people with differing perspectives to discuss policy issues surrounding the use of GMOs in human food and animal feed. The documents are the result of a concerted effort to fairly present all sides of the GMO controversy. Representative titles are "U.S. vs. EU: An Examination of the Trade Issues Surrounding Genetically Modified Food" and "Ethics and Biotechnology Workshop Report."

Food and Agriculture, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCSUSA)
UCSUSA began as a collaboration between students and faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969, and has grown into an organization of 250,000 scientists and citizens. Its mission is to create a healthier and safer environment and world through independent scientific research and citizen action. The Food and Agriculture section addresses GMOs on the web page entitled, "Impacts of Genetic Engineering," providing reports, analyses and FAQs, which are all printer-friendly. The UCSUSA web site is preferable to other advocacy sources for GMO regulation because the organization's information and legislative campaigns are based on scientific research.

National Issues: Food and Agriculture, BIO: Biotechnology Industry Organization
With 1,200 plus members worldwide, BIO is the largest advocacy organization for biotechnology industries. The Food and Agriculture web page has several sections to keep agricultural companies informed about GMO issues: Legislative Action, Publications and Videos, Genetically Engineered Animal Resource Center, Backgrounders, Position Papers, and Livestock Cloning. The web page is a credible source for the industrial perspective on GMOs.

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