Roland Williamson asked:
I am one of those totally torn by the issue of GM crops. I understand the argument (I think) but the leap forward from annual selection and breeding of crops is over shadowed by the unnecessary control by the developers whereby they retain control of the seeds. How can that benefit man?
We put this question to Dr Jim Haseloff, from Cambridge University:
Jim - I think it’s an extremely interesting question and with synthetic biology, a lot of us are struggling with this idea that are shifting towards modified biological systems that are based on parts, and that those parts might be open-source and the technology is very cheap, so there’s certainly a potential for allowing access in developing countries to technology which can dial straight into important sustainable technologies. The current model for biotechnology involves protecting elements and preventing other people from using them except under license. So, this idea of protecting or removing fertility in seeds can have a bio-safety aspect, but it also can have an aspect of limiting use. So, I think this is a question not for scientists but for society.
Roland Williamson asked the Naked Scientists: Re: Banana Medicine by Harriet Dickinson Love the site - better get that in! I am one of those totally torn by the issue of GM crops. I understand the argument (I think) but the leap forward from annual selection and breeding of crops is over shadowed by the unnecessary control by the developers whereby they retain control of the seeds. How can that benefit man? Politics has starved far more than ineptitude. Regards, Roland Williamson. What do you think? Roland Williamson, Sat, 11th Jul 2009
The sterility is not just for economic reasons, (so the farmer has to buy new seed every year).
The most important reason is, as RD says, to prevent crossbreeding. However, the problem is potentially far more serious than just contaminating non-GM crops; there is a risk of the GM crops not only interbreeding with non-GM crops and out-evolving them, and in effect, killing them off, but also interbreeding with dissimilar plants and killing them off too. When I say 'killing them off' here I'm referring to the GM organism mutated crops supplanting the non-GM varieties in the same way that evolution works; the mutated plants might survive better than the original plants, leading to their decline and extinction.
Why don't farmers/selective breeders have to jump through the same hoops? Their organisms are just as GM as scientifically GM organisms. _Stefan_, Sat, 11th Jul 2009
Can we afford to wait a couple of centuries?
Selective breeding is not really the same as genetically modifying something. With selective breeding you can only combine traits between organisms that can already interbreed whereas GM is most often used to combine traits from dissimilar organisms, ones that cannot naturally interbreed. GM is not just about making selective breeding more efficient.
I don't think it means much whether 2 organisms can interbreed or not. When a new mutation occurs in one line, or an allele in one line has never been experienced by the other line, this is no different from introducing a trait from an entirely different species. And in both cases, the possible effects are not known.
I must agree with LeeE, GM and selective breeding are different. You cannot take a trait present in wheat and get it into a tomato by selective breeding, but you can by GM.
Given enough time, you could selectively breed to produce almost any trait. We know this because it's already happened through evolution as well as artificial selection. There are also countless examples of convergence.
As I said in my first post, I do think that GM is a good idea; the problem is that there has been insufficient time to adequately test it. The motives for it's early roll-out and aggressive promotion have nothing to do with saving the Earth, it being claimed by some that it is now our only viable option; it's being pushed out so aggressively, even to the extent that attempts have been made to restrict non-GM alternatives, purely to turn a profit. LeeE, Mon, 13th Jul 2009
The incident with the monarch butterfly, I think, is evidence enough that much, much more evaluation of GM crops and their effect on other plants/insects is imperative before any GM plant is released into the open environment.
Heh - a bit of an after thought, but I just thought I'd better mention that it is not the seeds that are sterile but the plants that grow from them. LeeE, Mon, 13th Jul 2009
In Australia there is documented evidence that GM crops cross pollinate