Theres a lot of myths about genetic engineering. Let’s have a look at them.
- “Genetic modification is unnatural.” That phrase is very common. However, if you look at two apple trees in nature, their DNA will differ a bunch. During sexual breeding, roughly half of the DNA of father and half of the mother plant will be recombined. Random recombination, homologous recombination, ancient retroviruses, transposons (jumping genes) and retrotransposons will scramble up the genome. The polymerase will make copying errors such as inserting the wrong letter (ATGA->ACGA) and sometimes leave large deletions or duplications in the DNA. Also, the fact that this is natural doesn’t mean it’s harmless. Just google for the Lenape potato or the killer zucchini, natural breeding can and does produce toxic and dangerous varieties.
- “But these are all natural. If humans put a gene from a fish into a tomato, that’s somehow different!” Sounds legit, right? Just in the recent years we have seen the prices for sequencing DNA drop drastically (reading DNA), and guess what we found. There’s genes from lots of different animals and plants in many different animals and plants. Google “horizontal gene transfer”, the results will blow your mind! Just to give a few examples: a fern that acquired a moss gene, butterflies that acquired wasp genes, in humans we have found more than 100 bacterial genes, … Even mammalian sperm produces reverse transcriptse and can take up RNA and DNA from its environment. In bacteria, species barriers have been known to be randomly defined by man for a long time.
- “In Europe we have banned GMOs, so we have natural crops.” Nothing could be further away from the truth. As GMOs have been outlawed but “random breeding methods” are exempt from these regulations, breeders use older methods such as creating mutants by employing mutagenic chemicals and radioactive radiation. Instead of just adding one known and characterized gene, you randomly mutate hundreds of genes at the same time and pick the mutant that makes the biggest fruits. Side effects? There’s no way to tell, as no safety testing is required by law, unlike with genetically engineered plants that take 10-15 years of studies for approval which cost around 100 million dollars per plant.
- “GMOs are all patented and inherently used for profit” While it is true that GMOs can (but don’t have to – check out the humanitarian open source Golden Rice) be patented, this is mainly caused by the expensive process to get them through FDA approval. You cannot sell it for 15 years, so companies patent it to make it more likely that their investment will come back with interests. Also, small Universities or entities cannot afford FDA approval processes and thus big companies like Monsanto can have big market share and less competition.