[NAFEX] Genetically Modified vs Genetically Altered (Mutagenesis)

Anton Callaway marillen at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 29 19:43:02 EST 2005

The monetary aims of agribusiness is often questioned (and such questioning is healthy when done with an open mind), but every time I see a scare article come out, I can't help but be reminded that news organizations also have a monetary benefit in making their stories more interesting- even if that means erring on the side of sensationalism instead of sticking to logic and facts.

There are both similarities and differences among conventional breeding, mutagenesis aided breeding and transformation-directed modification of plant genomes (often called "genetically modified").  All are, in fact, natural processes that have been harnessed by humans.  And all three are indistinct in nature.  In other words, they all are happening simultaneously and have been happening for millions of years before humans existed.  

Mutagenesis occurs naturally because there are natural sources of ionizing radiation that can result in changes in an organism's genetic code.  It also occurs at a low level just because every organism's enzymes that reproduce and repair DNA  make "mistakes" at some frequency.  Selection then sorts out the detrimental changes from the beneficial ones.

"Genetic modification" also occurs naturally.  Agrobacterium species and plant viruses have been introducing "foreign" DNA into plants for many millenia.  

In all cases, the differences that humans have brought can be thought of as acceleration and direction.  Humans have thought of ways to speed up natural selection to make plants more adaptable to specific agricultural situations and more nutritious or palatable to humans and animals.  Rather than wait a million years for the mutation that confers resistance to an herbicide or a pest, mutagenesis allows you to find that mutation in a few years.  Then the breeder backcrosses or outcrosses repeatedly to isolate the one desired mutation from the others that were either neutral or undesirable.

The persons I have met in agribusiness are keenly aware that food safety is an absolute must.  They realize that if any "GMO" food slipped through the incredibly strict screens for safety, the effects on the company's reputation and bottom line would be extremely costly.  The little discussed fact is that "GMO" food is safer and more wholesome than conventionally produced foods because of the dramatic decreases in required pesticides and fungicides and the greatly reduced levels of very hazardous natural toxins like aflatoxin (made by a natural fungus).  

I think that the public should continue to scrutinize agribusiness and academic laboratories, just as they should scrutinize their government and other major industries.  However, I also believe that the more the public understands about the process of food and feed improvement performed by BASF and other companies, the more they will not only welcome it, but demand it.  I also believe that many in agribusiness welcome constructive scrutiny, despite the inconvenience of it.

Currently, there are many crops, including fruit crops, that are practically untouched by these technologies that could greatly reduce pesticide applications because it is too expensive to bring them to market.  From a food safety and environmental safety standpoint, that is really unfortunate.

Zone 8

-----Original Message-----
>From: John Barbowski <jbarbowski at gmail.com>
>Sent: Dec 29, 2005 1:05 PM
>To: North American Fruit Explorers <nafex at lists.ibiblio.org>
>Subject: [NAFEX] Genetically Modified vs Genetically Altered (Mutagenesis)
>Move over Monsanto, here comes BASF!
>Monsanto and its GM herbicide tolerant wheat got international bad press and
>fundamentally was driven out of Canada in 2004. There were fears of "human
>health hazards, increase weed resistance and corporate control over crops".
>Germany's BASF, through mutagenesis has developed CDC Imagine, a herbicide
>tolerant wheat that is making large inroads into Canada's prairie
>provinces. "It keeps growing when sprayed with herbicides that normally make
>wheat shrivel up and die."
>Mutagenesis entails "blasting cells or seed with radiation, or bathing them
>in chemicals to cause mutations in a plants existing genes".
>BASF bathed seeds in a chemical that induced genetic changes. They then grew
>the seed and sprayed the plants with a herbicide (dazolinone based, also
>produced by BASF). The surviving plants have the desired mutation.
>"Even more remarkable, this high-tech wheat has avoided the wrath of
>farmers, environmentalists, and consumers who drove Monsanto's wheat out of
>This is from an article in The National Post by Margaret Munro, Dec 29,
>Somehow, I fail appreciated the difference!

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