Engineering soil bacteria could help develop enhanced, ‘non-GMO’ crops for Europe

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Plant breeding – a method of selecting plants from a group that have the desired properties – is central to the debate on how to keep feeding all the mouths in the world responsibly . To date, scientists have focused on the genes in the plant itself …. This process is very time consuming. Researchers at Utrecht University recently found a faster way to improve crops.

Instead of focusing on the genes of the plant, you can also focus on the genes of the bacteria that live around plants. The researchers believe that modifying these genes is not only faster, but also cheaper than traditional breeding.

The researchers emphasize that this method is not GMO and can therefore simply be applied in agriculture and horticulture. Why is this so important? Is GMO so harmful? No, says Richard Visser, professor of plant breeding at Wageningen University. “There are no specific problems with GMO. I even dare to say that GMO crops are better controlled than normal crops.” According to Visser, the problem is that GMO in Europe, and also in parts in Africa and Asia, has been put in a bad light by all kinds of protests.

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But as far as he is concerned you cannot really call the approach GMO-free. “Formally it is GMO. However, these modifications in bacteria are exempt, because you cannot show the difference between natural and man-made mutations.”

[Editor’s note: This article was published in Dutch and has been translated and edited for clarity.]

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