Food and Genes: What’s the Story?

The field of genomics is exploding! I was thrilled to be included on a recent tour of the University of Illinois’ Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) sponsored by Illinois Farm Families. I felt compelled to write about it as a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother of two children who are growing up in a world where strides in the study of how genes interact with one another – from plants to people – will gain even more momentum in the decades ahead.

I have to admit I was not really sure what the study of genomics entailed. In his introduction, Gene Robinson, the director of IGB, explained, “The genomics revolution is happening right now.” Apparently, genomics is a broad, big picture approach that looks up at all genes and how they interact with one another and as Robinson noted, “genomics is a dynamic science; its thinking big and evolving.” But how can gene modifications affect your health and wellness, specifically when it comes to the food you eat?

Genetically modified (GM) food is controversial, that’s for sure. In talking with farmers, biotechnologists and geneticists on the tour, the conversation around the safety of GM food was a hot topic.

Here are some of the things I learned:

  • In talking with the farmers on the tour, a common goal is producing food that is safe to feed the world. Farmers take precautions to ensure safety by testing the soil, selecting quality seeds that work best for the climate and growing conditions and using the minimum amount of chemicals, such as fertilizers and pesticides on crops.
  • In the future crops will have even more nutrients than they do today. Scientific initiatives are underway that harness the sun’s energy to make them more efficient at producing greater amounts of food for a growing world population.
  • Climate change is a real issue for nourishing the world. One of the big initiatives at IGB is working on how plants adapt when they are challenged with climate change threats like greater amounts of carbon dioxide, less water and more disease-causing bugs on plants.

In the end as we toured the corn fields, I was reminded that we are lucky to live in a country where food is abundant. However, in this global landscape with an increasing population and finite resources, I found comfort in the fact that science is advancing to use genetic material to solve some of the curve balls that nature throws our way!

Originally posted on Simple Cravings, Real Food.

Vicki Shanta Retelny RDN LDN

Vicki Retelny, RDN, LDN

About Victoria

Vicki Shanta Retelny is a lifestyle nutrition expert, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies and culinary consultant who lives in Chicago with her husband, two children and a pet pug. She blogs at

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