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What is Genetic Pharming?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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Genetic pharming is the use of genetically modified organisms to produce pharmaceutical products. It is sometimes known simply as “pharming.” A number of pharmaceutical companies sell pharmed products and numerous others are constantly in development. From the initial phases of development to the release of the medication, generating a profitable pharmed product can take years and the process is considered experimental.

Both plants and animals can be used for pharming. In the case of animals, mammals like goats and cows are popular for genetic farming, as their milk can be used to generate pharmaceuticals. Plants ranging from potatoes to tobacco have been used for genetic pharming, expressing medications in their flesh and sap. Once a plant or animal starts producing, the drug can be refined from it and prepared for sale.

In genetic pharming, scientists genetically modify an organism to cause it to express a desired chemical compound. Essentially, the organism's natural processes are hijacked to create a project useful for humans. In some cases, people can eat plants or consume milks directly to access the compound. In others, once the compound is expressed, it needs to be processed to make it saleable, in order to make sure the dose is regulated and stable. Products produced using this technique may or may not need to be labeled as such, depending on regional laws.

Pharmaceuticals produced with genetic pharming have to be functionally identical to products produced in other ways. The process of developing them is costly, as researchers need to manipulate genes and test the outcome to confirm it is usable. Once the work is done, large numbers of organisms can be bred to produce the drug on a bigger scale so it can be sold. Genetic pharming requires expertise from a number of fields, including genetics, agriculture, and chemistry, and people may cooperate for extended periods on projects.

As with other drugs sold to the public, the product is inspected and certified for safety before it can be released. Some people have raised concerns about genetic pharming, ranging from ethical worries on the part of people who do not want to consume genetically modified organisms or their products to concerns that people with allergies might be adversely affected if they take medications produced by an organism that is a known allergen. As with other advances in medical science, it has been a topic of vigorous discussion and debate as people deal with legal, ethical, and health issues related to genetic pharming.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By SteamLouis — On May 07, 2013

@turquoise-- Corn has already been genetically modified, so has soy beans, canola and rice. Almost all of soy beans in the world are a result of pharming now.

Pharming has a lot of potential benefits and of course there are risks as well. But the amount of genetically modified foods in the world are still minimal and research is ongoing so I don't think we need to worry just yet.

By turquoise — On May 07, 2013

@ddljohn-- I don't think that genetic pharming or biopharming is unethical because it's for the benefit of humanity and pharming is mainly done with plants now and not animals.

What I'm more concerned about is if these genetically modified, medicated crops end up in regular crops which is highly possible.

Just imagine that scientists produced corn with human insulin in it. It would be great for diabetics who would no longer have to inject themselves with insulin. But what if that corn gets mixed with regular corn and non-diabetics start eating it? That's what I'm worried about.

By ddljohn — On May 06, 2013

I think genetic pharming is scary. I don't think it's ethical because organisms are being used and harmed in the process.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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