Do you believe that GMOs will be able to be spread into all different crops?
Submitted by: Wilbur Helsel
Expert response from Christopher Barbey
PhD Student, Plant Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology
Wednesday, 18/04/2018 15:32
Hello, and thank you for your question!
Scientists commonly use genetically engineering (GE) to add and subtract genes from ALL sorts of plants, from common weeds to potatoes from the Andes. Most GE is performed only to learn how plants work. While it’s relatively simple to change a plant’s genetics, it’s difficult and expensive to actually improve a plant’s genetics. Thus, only the most “important” crops are targets for GE. Smaller improvements are discovered with ever-increasing frequency by scientists, but these typically do not reach farmers due to the high costs associated with developing and de-regulating a new GE variety. Only 10 crops in the United States have farmed GE varieties: corn, cotton, canola, soybean, sugarbeet, squash, alfalfa, papaya, apple and potato.
Consider the example of disease-resistant “Bs2 tomatoes,” co-invented by a professor at my university:
“There currently are no Bs2 tomatoes being produced for sale or consumption, and this will not change until two hurdles are passed. The first is the de-regulation process. It takes years for a transgenic crop to be de-regulated, and the process is costly…. many potential investors are wary due to concerns about public acceptance—which is the second hurdle….Since peppers and tomatoes cannot be intercrossed, the only way to utilize this gene in tomatoes is through the use of transgenic technology. Ultimately, because growers will only produce what they can sell, the future of Bs2 tomatoes relies on whether or not the public will accept and buy their product.”
Many opportunities to improve crops for poor subsistence farmers have mostly gone ignored, for the some of the reasons listed above. Fortunately, research projects in GE crops for the developing-world are increasingly being sponsored by public universities and NGO’s like the Gates Foundation. These collaborations are intended to help those of us who are most in need, and almost always involve local universities and local farmers. Some examples include vitamin-A enriched rice and bananas, insect resistant eggplant and cotton in India, drought-resistant corn in Tanzania, nutritionally fortified potatoes in Ghana, and many more.
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