13 July, 2014

Some Salient Facts About GMOs: Addendum

It dawned on me this morning that I had missed one of the most important points that could have appeared in the first post on GMOs.  

Often we hear supporters of GMOs saying things like "What we are doing is no different than what mankind has been doing since the beginning of agriculture."  There is no difference between GMOs and simply hybridizing that anyone has done in the past." 

To say this is so ludicrous it does an injustice to the word.  When proponents of GMOs say this, they will eventually admit that previous generations did not have the technology to do this.  So how, in fact, did our ancestors "genetically engineer" plants?

They didn't.  

The technology used before genetic engineering is so totally different from genetic engineering that no one with a slice of understanding of the two technologies would ever suggest they are similar let alone the same.

If you had any doubts, look at the process.  In traditional breeding, normally there is a mother plant and a father plant.  In plants, there is also the phenomena where the mother and father are the same plant.  To clarify, pollen comes from the father plant parts and must pollinate the female plant parts - and some flowers have both male and female parts. Many of those having both male and female plant parts in their flowers will pollinate themselves - others may have both male and female parts but not be able to pollinate themselves.  It sometimes makes animal sexuality look dull.  

In the GMO process, the combining of DNA is done without a mother or a father.  Genes from species totally unrelated are inserted into the victim plant.  The very definition of 'species' is plants that can interbreed -  a corn's silk will accept pollen from any other corn, but will not accept pollen from related species - like wheat, rice or barley - they are all grasses and in that similar.  However, in nature you cannot get a corn silk to accept pollen from a beet.  In genetic engineering, genes from a fish can be inserted into a plant.  There is nothing in nature that would allow that to happen.  

Furthermore, the genetic information from the fish will be in every cell of that plant.  That doesn't happen in regular breeding.  Remember from your 8th grade biology class that each individual is born with two sets of genes - one from Mom, one from Dad.  And that is the way it works in nature - of each pair, one is dominant and one is recessive.  In GMO's, each plant is a clone of the original single cell that was engineered in a laboratory. This is not the way we've always done it!  And anyone who tries to tell you genetic engineering is "normal" or is "just like what we've always done" is either making money of GMOs or just doesn't understand what really is involved.  

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, natural about genetic engineering (GE), also called Genetic Modification (GM).  However you slice it, it's not a 'natural' process whichever way you look at it.

NB:  There is a process in traditional plant breeding where cloning is used.  However, it only happens inside a given genus - or in two very similar genuses. There are instances of hybridizing between oak species and apricots and plums will sexually cooperate plus a few others examples.  These are not the freaks of GMO work!  No fish has ever become a plant and no plant can, in nature, accept genes from species as different as those from a fish. The ones that cross species must be very similar to begin with and these are not all that common.  The resultant DNA, from this cross, is not usually reproducible, but a GMO plant will produce GMO plants in succeeding generations. 

I hope I have shed more light than dark! I have tried to explain simply and forthrightly.  If you need clarification, write a note and I'll answer your concern specifically.  


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