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GMOs vs. mutagenesis vs. conventional breeding: Which wins?

| December 3, 2013

When countries reject or ban genetically modified crops over safety concerns, agricultural companies often turn to developing new strains using mutagenesis—wherein plants are subjected to radiation treatments or doused in toxic chemicals that randomly scrambles genes to produce new traits.

Despite the fact that this process is much less precise than genetic modification–in which scientists take a gene that gives rise to a desired trait, such as pesticide resistance, and insert it into the target plant–mutagenesis is unregulated and widely used.

One example of this is the Rio Red grapefruit, which was created in a laboratory after years of experimentation. Because mutagenesis, like genetic modification, is a process, mutagenetically created Rio Reds can even be sold as organic.

Is mutagenesis really safer than genetic modification?  The pseudononymous “BioChica,” a scientist with a PhD in molecular genetics who writes the FrankenFoodFacts blog, addresses the safety differences of GMOs, mutagenesis and conventional breeding by looking at peer-reviewed academic papers and other publications.

BioChica focuses on the potential of unintended changes in gene expression that may result from the different methods of breeding. A paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which compared GM rice to ‘mutant’ rice, concluded that, although there are unintended genetic changes in the GM rice, there were far fewer than in rice bred through mutagenesis, although the potential for harm in both cases is trivial.

She also dissects a 2010 paper that concluded that year-to-year climate variation and geographic location accounts for more changes in gene expression in crops than the process used to develop them. The environment in which a plant is grown has more impact on the plant’s genome than whether it was genetically modified or conventionally bred.

Both papers recommend that food safety assessments be carried out on a case-by-case basis, rather than “just lumping all genetically modified foods into one category.”

“I fail to see how mutagenic technologies are any safer than [genetic modification],” BioChica writes. “Substantial equivalence” is the starting point for food safety assessments, and hundreds of studies indicate that genetically modified crops are substantially equivalent to their non-GM counterparts. Food safety should be regulated, but the regulations should be on the food product itself, not on the method used to grow a particular crop.

The National Academy of Sciences agrees, saying that “regulating genetically modified crops while giving a pass to products of mutation breeding isn’t scientifically justified.”

Read the full, original story here: Death Match: Transgenesis vs Traditional Breeding

Additional Resources:

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Click the link above to read the full, original article.

15 thoughts on “GMOs vs. mutagenesis vs. conventional breeding: Which wins?”

        • His face does not have issues.
          I think that conventional breeding truly is better at creating random mutations that don’t do anything, which increases genetic diversity. However, not all scientific messing with codes ends badly. Sometimes it is good.

          Of course, it’s only good if the company modifying doesn’t have an ulterior motive. Monsanto has an ulterior motive, so its crops are not making the best use of GMOs.

          • Wait – you think conventional breeding doesn’t create random mutation?

            Which school of biology did you graduate from?

          • No. I said “I think that conventional breeding truly is better at creating random mutations that don’t do anything, which increases genetic diversity.”

            What I meant by that was:
            “When plants are bred normally, they create random mutations. This means that crops have a higher genetic diversity the more they are bred.

            GMOs have some deliberately modified genes, but because it is costly to modify genes, scientists cannot afford to randomly modify archaic genes and artificially create genetic diversity in the plant.

            Because of this, conventionally bred plants have higher genetic diversity than GMOs.”

            Looking back on my earlier comment, I should not have inserted the “however”, and I should have changed my wording to be less negative. But I still think Monsanto has ulterior motives (ex. all Roundup-Ready plants).

            Then again, they did make soybeans that synthesize SDA. Maybe those were unsuccessful test pilots.

            Anyways, thank you for pointing out how confusingly written my comment was. I am sorry for writing it like that.

          • From what I recall there are now glyphosate resistant crops – that are not GM but just accidentally created by breeding. Interesting turn of events, no?

          • It is to be expected. Natural selection is quite the process.

            Using more than one herbicide should be done. If it were easy to do I’m sure it would be done by now.

  1. Now, if your face underwent genetic modification, it wouldn’t have anymore issues, would it? And frankly, the two commenters above me seem to be the same person – near identical usernames and all.

  2. Here are the problems with each of these.
    Conventional Breeding: Tires out the soil (you have to plant a lot of plants to get the wanted result), very imprecise, wastes resources

    GMOs: seems bad, in the hands of pesticide companies

    Mutagenic Breeding: Tires out the soil (you don’t know how it was changed until you grow the plant), very imprecise, wastes resources, seems bad
    Really, if people boycott pest companies, then that could let better companies use GMOs in ways that actually take advantage of the field, such as turning C3 crops into more effective C4 crops.
    C3 crops: like wheat and rice
    C4 crops: like corn

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