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New Test Detects GMOs in Food

WASHINGTON—As GMO foods become more prevalent, consumers have also become more wary of changes made to these items. Genes of genetically engineered (GE) plants are continually tweaked to make them more healthful or pest-resistant, and shoppers want information on what types of modifications occur within these bioengineered foods. Now, scientists in China have created the first comprehensive method for detecting genetic modifications to food in order to meet growing demands for the monitoring and labeling of genetically modified (GMO) food items, according to a new study published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

The new method is called the MACRO test. MACRO stands for multiplex amplification on a chip with readout on an oligo microarray—it combines two well-known genetic methods to flag about 97% of the known commercialized modifications, almost twice as many as other tests. It also can be easily expanded to include future genetically modified crops.

The researchers said that by the end of 2012, farmers were growing GE crops on more than 420 million acres of land across 28 countries, which is 100 times more than when commercialization began in 1996. However, doubts persist about the potential effects these crops could have on the environment and human health. In response, policymakers, particularly in Europe, have instituted regulations to monitor GMO products. Although researchers have come up with many ways to detect genetic modification in crops, no single test has previously existed to perform a comprehensive scan.

In a recent debate over GMO food labeling, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declined requests by federal judges to determine whether food can be labeled "natural" if it contains GMO ingredients. Labels containing terms such as "organic" have become more prevalent as consumers increase their interest in food origins and GMO food products.

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