As a gardener and a green thumb, you’re probably familiar with the concept of plant breeding. Some of the most scrumptious fruits, like papaya, owe their deliciousness to this technique.
But most people have no idea how these crops are grown or what makes that food worthy to be sold in grocery stores. And since over 10% of the US workforce has agricultural careers, it’s important to understand why companies developed these new plants and whether this process could contribute to the loss of jobs.
While genetic manipulation is a powerful tool for producing food, it has economic and environmental consequences. Educating yourself on its effects can help you make more informed decisions about the food you eat.
Here’s the science behind engineered fruits and vegetables.
What Is Genetic Modification?
Genetic modification, also called biotechnology or genetic engineering, is the process of changing a plant’s genes.
It’s done by adding new DNA to a plant’s genome. The most common GM crops are corn and soybeans.
The History of Plant Breeding
Plant breeding is a long process that combines science and art. It’s been done for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until Gregor Mendel provided the principles of heredity in 1866 that plant breeding became more systematic.
Corn was the first modified crop to be commercially produced.
GMO Plants and Your Health
Genes from other organisms are added to GMO crops. These genes help make a new protein or make the crop resistant to pests and diseases. However, some people worry that these genes could be harmful if consumed by humans.
Some GMO plants contain antibiotic resistance markers. These markers help identify modified DNA. The concern is that these markers could transfer to bacteria in our digestive systems, making them resistant to antibiotics.
For these markers to be a problem, they would have to survive the digestion process. Fortunately, our stomachs break down the DNA before it reaches the bloodstream. The FDA also assures us that these markers are unlikely to cause harm.
The other concern about GMO plants is that they may contain new proteins that humans have never eaten. Some people worry these foreign chemicals can lead to allergic reactions. These concerns are unfounded since there’s no evidence to support these claims.
Some research suggests that eating genetically modified foods might increase one’s risk of getting cancer. However, scientific experts and the FDA have said this assertion is incorrect.
The Benefits of Modern Plant Breeding
Modern plant breeding techniques can help you grow a garden that’s so lush, your neighbors will be green with envy. Not only will it give your green thumb a boost, but you’ll also be able to cultivate some seriously impressive fruits and veggies. Best of all, they’ll be way tastier than what our ancestors had to work with.
These new plants may also be able to grow in challenging environments. Some GMO plants can flourish year-round instead of just during certain seasons. Potatoes and papayas are two examples of such substances.
In addition to these benefits, there will be more food to share with the community. Raising GMO crops has helped farmers boost their yields to impressive levels. And thanks to their clever techniques, growers are producing a bounty of delicious treats with less land, water, and energy than ever before.
Gone are the days of losing entire harvests to pests and diseases. Today, gardeners can take advantage of the latest innovations to reduce their dependence on pesticides and wasteful agricultural practices.
Who’s Doing the Breeding?
Most of the breeding is done by biotech companies. Venture capitalists and shareholders usually fund these organizations with the hope of profiting from their creations.
The government also grants funding for plant breeding experiments. The USDA, for example, gave over $5 million in grants for GMO research in 2022.
The companies have to get approval from government regulators before they can sell their products. This means inventors must show that the crops are safe for people and other living things. They also have to demonstrate that the product is better than traditional produce.
How Many Plant Varieties Exist?
Thousands of corn, wheat, and rice are grown to better serve the needs of farmers. These new varieties have allowed for increased productivity.
GMO crops are also being developed for use in medicine or other industries, such as fuel production.
For example, bananas altered by genetic engineering are capable of producing vaccines for Hepatitis B. Eating this transgenic banana can provide immunity against the virus.
Ethanol, a renewable fuel source, also owes its efficacy to GMO production. It’s made from GMO starches like corn.
What Types of New Plants Are Being Created?
Plant breeders make new varieties of plants for different applications. Some of these include drought-tolerant crops. This product has helped farmers conserve water during times of low rainfall.
Drought-tolerant strains of corn are popular in places like India and Africa where there’s a lack of water for irrigation.
Nutrient-rich crops are also becoming more common. These plants have higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals. Iron-fortified rice and wheat are examples of this.
Fortified foods can help prevent deficiencies in countries that lack access to nutritious meals.
Enhance Your Garden
Genetic modification is an effective plant breeding method, but it has its drawbacks. The most common complaint is that it’s unnatural. Some people also worry that genetic modification may have adverse environmental consequences.
The fact is, there’s a lot we don’t know about GMOs. But one thing’s for sure: Genetic modification can make our food more nutritious.
Whether you trust the process or not, it’s an easy way to grow healthy crops at home. But if you prefer another approach, read our home and garden section for tips on cultivating your own nourishing food.