Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Make mine RW scotch...

While opponents of genetic modification uniformly warn of health and environmental consequences that must inevitably follow, that's not how things seem to turning out. We now have years of real-world consumption of GM products to point to as reassurance of the safety and efficacy.

In fact, one form of genetic manipulation - radiation breeding - isn't all that far removed from cartoons by anti-nuclear protestors.
Though poorly known, radiation breeding has produced thousands of useful mutants and a sizable fraction of the world’s crops, Dr. Lagoda said, including varieties of rice, wheat, barley, pears, peas, cotton, peppermint, sunflowers, peanuts, grapefruit, sesame, bananas, cassava and sorghum. The mutant wheat is used for bread and pasta and the mutant barley for beer and fine whiskey.

The mutations can improve yield, quality, taste, size and resistance to disease and can help plants adapt to diverse climates and conditions.

Dr. Lagoda takes pains to distinguish the little-known radiation work from the contentious field of genetically modified crops, sometimes disparaged as “Frankenfood.” That practice can splice foreign genetic material into plants, creating exotic varieties grown widely in the United States but often feared and rejected in Europe. By contrast, radiation breeding has made few enemies.

“Spontaneous mutations are the motor of evolution,” Dr. Lagoda said. “We are mimicking nature in this. We’re concentrating time and space for the breeder so he can do the job in his lifetime. We concentrate how often mutants appear — going through 10,000 to one million — to select just the right one.” [More]
While obviously competing with other forms of genetic manipulation, it is hardly surprising that "mutant breeders" would try to open an imaginary space between themselves and GM. But who's fooling whom?
Lagoda who irradiates plants to produce mutants is being somewhat disingenuous when he says, "I’m not doing anything different from what nature does." True, mutations occur in nature all of the time, but it seems somewhat doubtful that plants out in a field experience anywhere near the number of uncharacterized mutations produced in a lab by gamma rays.

If anti-biotechies are so afraid of genetic changes in their foods, why aren't they out protesting varieties produced by means of mutation breeding? After all, most biotech crops merely change agronomic characteristics, whereas many irradiated varieties have different nutritional profiles.

The point here is NOT that mutation breeding is inherently dangerous. Given a solid record of 80 years of safety, it's not. The point is that the more precise methods of modern gene-splicing are even safer and should therefore be subject to even less regulation than crops produced by mutation breeding. [More]
Breeders have the right to try to position themselves however they want to gain some market advantage, but it looks to me like any market advantage will be slim and temporary. GM works, and we're getting better and better at it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well I guess we'll have to wait till next Spring to see if our trees mutate from Acer palmatum Atropurpureum (Red Ribbon-leaf Maples) to some variegation or sport due to the radiation we caught from that typhoon from Iran and Japan.

But talk about weird!! The Sugar Pod Peas that I planted last April and took the normal 68 days to grow fruit in soil, that I had to replace due to the Typhoon nuking we took, I re-planted them hydroponically and even though they may have a week to ten days till we eat, have produced fruit in only 30 days and the plants that are growing in my window box are only about a foot tall as opposed to 3 feet tall in soil.