Friday, September 09, 2011

Myths about GM

Good to see a counter case being presented against those Greens who oppose Genetic Modification.

Myth one: GM is just haphazard, imprecise cross-breeding

In genetic engineering, scientists can very precisely select genes and introduce them into their target species. The wheat we consume today, for example, is a natural hybrid of three different wild species. This has resulted in bringing tens of thousands of genes together in several independent events. It is responsible for wheat being such an important crop. Modern wheat breeders release new varieties after introducing thousands of unknown genes from wild grasses without any regulatory requirements or special testing and with no genetic engineering involved. This is very haphazard and we do not know what genes are being introduced, apart from the target gene we know is present. The irony is that the precise introduction of a single gene is heavily regulated yet the introduction of thousands of unknown genes from wild grasses into a new wheat variety via traditional breeding methods is regarded as being completely acceptable.

Myth two: GM is a cure-all for more efficient land use and food security

GM technologies are just one of the tools that may be useful. Other important contributions to land use and food security come from traditional breeding, agronomy, land management and sustainability research. Breeding new varieties of any species requires multiple selection and evaluation methodologies, and there are a lot of conditions at play when developing better wheat.A new variety has to offer an advantage to the grower, it must have good yields and be adapted to the region where it is grown. It must also have good resistance or tolerance to diseases.GM technologies are generally only suitable for the single gene traits, not complex multigenic ones. Over time, GM may contribute to factors such as grain yield and drought resistance as we learn more about the basic biology underpinning these traits and identify the key genes to optimise. More importantly, it must be beneficial for end users and consumers.

Myth three: GM is harmful to the environment

In fact, there have been many environmental benefits from GM.GM technologies have massively reduced pesticide use in all circumstances where pests have been targeted. For example, the GM cotton varieties that are insect resistant reduce pesticide use by up to 80%. This reduced use of pesticides has other flow-on effects: less greenhouse gas associated with lower diesel use; less pesticide run-off; less residual pesticides; more biodiversity and improvements in human safety.

Myth four: GM means creating Frankenfoods

Often GM technologies don’t involve the introduction of any new genes from another species. Rather they turn the “volume” up or down of a certain gene already present in our crops (rather than introducing foreign genes). Some of them just silence, or “turn off”, a particular gene. Silencing can be important in modifying grain composition. For example, modifying starches can result in grains that have the potential to reduce the incidence of certain cancers. Turning up the volume is used to over express some genes, such as those that detoxify excess levels of aluminium in the soil or solubilise nutrients in the soil to improve the nutrition of plants.

Taken from Richard Richards here ,

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