Scientists are able to move single genes between differing plants and animals, or remove a gene from its original position and place it into a new position in the same organism, with the aim of changing the organism in some way. This is called genetic modification. It is also sometimes referred to as genetic engineering, gene technology and/or genetic manipulation.
Plants and animals have been modified to yield specific characteristics, such as Bt cotton, which has been grown in Australia for several years and has a gene included to repel specific insect pests. Recent developments also include the use of enzymes and bacteria in a wide range of applications, including waste management, industrial production, food production and remediation of contaminated land. Genetic modification is also used in the production of some medicines and vaccines, such as insulin for diabetics.
Applications that use genetic modification techniques raise concerns for many people. Some are concerned about unknown environmental risks, about potential health problems and other people do not like the idea of 'playing God' with nature. People are particularly concerned about moving genes between plants and animals.
For further information on how ethical issues are considered by the national gene technology regulatory scheme you can visit the OGTR website, in particular pages on the Gene Technology Ethics Committee.