Our evolutionary journey across the African continent to every corner of the globe had us start out as hunter-gatherers. This was before we realized we no longer had to strive against the elements — we could tame them — and so change the harsh climates into farmlands, as well as grow crops that could sustain cities and, eventually, nations.
Perhaps nothing like a late-night run to the supermarket reminds us of this centuries-long epic. Even passing the produce section, we are overwhelmed by freshly watered clusters of ripe fruits and vegetables more colorful and nutrient-rich than our distant cave-dwelling relatives could have ever dreamed of.
Not only have centuries of agriculture by means of artificial selection brought us a long way from the nuts and berries that sustained Lucy the Australopithecus, but we have finally found a way to design produce — altering and even patenting its DNA — thanks to a burgeoning technology known as GMO, or genetically modified organism.
Editing genetic material — something that we can now do more rapidly than ever — is not without its detractors. For many countries in the European Union, the sale of GMOs is cautiously restricted, as these modified products are believed to be agents of cancer and birth defects. Even in the United States, there is an ongoing controversy over whether these products should be labeled as such, and many food sellers proudly boast their products to be “Non-GMO.” Our inherent distrust of new and unusual things tends to kick into full gear when we hear that our tomatoes might contain genes from a fish — in moments like these we are thinking with our amygdala, activating the same instincts that once helped us detect and evade predators. But are our fears justified?