QHow is a transgenic organism or GMO created?How is genetic engineering different from traditional agricultural breeding?With an ever-increasing global population, will transgenic organisms help increase carrying capacity or are there a greater threat to b

How is a transgenic organism or GMO created? How is genetic engineering different from traditional agricultural breeding? With an ever-increasing global population, will transgenic organisms help increase carrying capacity or are there a greater threat to biodiversity? What are the major concerns about how transgenic organisms affect the environment? How are different types of farming different in their impact on the environment?

AExpert Answer

Thank you for your questions, we will address each question separately below.

How is a transgenic organism or GMO created?

When people refer to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), they are referring to precision plant breeding using genetic engineering. It allows plant breeders to take a desirable trait (like resistance to drought, insects, weeds, and disease) from one plant or organism and transfer it to the plant they want to improve, as well as make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing. You may have also heard of agricultural biotechnology or biotech seeds. These are terms that may be used to refer to the same thing – a genetically modified organism (GMO).

GMOs are created to achieve a desired trait, such as resistance to an insect or improvement to the ripening process, in order to better meet a customer’s needs.

Posted below is a five-minute video that offers a great visual illustration of how GMOs are made.

Similarly, this response discusses the different breeding techniques, or “transformations,” that plants and GMOs undergo.

How is genetic engineering different from traditional agricultural breeding?

By “traditional agricultural breeding” we believe you are referring to conventional plant breeding methods, versus other genetic engineering methods. In this response, Edward Souza, Global Director of Wheat Breeding at Bayer, explains the differences in breeding techniques.

“First of all, to clarify – hybridization is part of conventional breeding and conventional breeding uses hybridization to create new combinations of genes from parent varieties. For example, a disease-resistant wheat variety may be hybridized to a variety that makes flour better suited for making whole wheat bread. This is a common goal of most conventional breeding programs. It typically involves taking pollen from one parent and using it to fertilize another parent. The seed from the hybridization is formed from the pollen and ovule of the two parents. The difference in breeding from a crop reproducing in the field by itself is the mechanical transfer of pollen between parents.”

Read the full response here.

We also invite you to check out this video from Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman, Horticultural Sciences Department, University of Florida, where he explains differences in breeding methods as well.

With an ever-increasing global population, will transgenic organisms help increase carrying capacity or are there a greater threat to biodiversity?

We invite you to check out this response that addresses the topic of GMOs helping an ever-growing population.

“’Jim Gaffney, PhD, Strategy Lead of Biotech Affairs and Regulatory at DuPont Pioneer says this:

“In short, yes, genetically modified (GM) crops are one tool with great potential for helping feed the growing population. The challenge is not just one of increased productivity though, but also of improving prosperity for millions of smallholder farmers and environmental stewardship and sustainability. That's a tall order and we’ll need all the tools available to us.’”

Read the full response here.

Additionally, Janet Carpenter, Owner, J E Carpenter Consulting LLC M.S. Agricultural and Resource Economics, recently addressed this topic in a similar response.

“Addressing world hunger is exceedingly complex, as we currently produce enough food to feed the global population, but still 815 million people in the world were estimated as chronically undernourished in 2016…GMOs have already increased yields and reduced the environmental impact of farming, where they have been deployed, especially in developing countries where hunger is more prevalent. However, there is much unrealized potential for available GMO technologies that could be beneficial in countries where they are not currently grown, as well as from technology that is still in development…”

Read her full response here.

What are the major concerns about how transgenic organisms affect the environment?

Genetically modified organisms can affect the environment in a variety of ways. This previous response answered on the topic explores these ways in more detail. 

“GMOs can affect the environment in many ways, and this response discusses the many ways in which GMOs can benefit the environment and the impact GM crops have on the environment. The data in this response from Brookes and Barfoot is from 2013, updated information can be found in their most recent report here.

Additionally, these infographics are helpful in explaining how GMOs can help preserve the habitat and H2Oprotect the environment and improve soil health.

Read the full response here and check out the latest report from Brookes and Barfoot here.

How are different types of farming different in their impact on the environment?

Stephen Moose, Professor of Plant Functional Genomics, Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, discusses the topic of land management practices on the environment in response to a similar question, stating, “all agricultural production systems are complex and balance a number of trade-offs between economic productivity and environmental sustainability.” Read his full response here.

Additionally, Jennie Schmidt, Maryland Farmer and Registered Dietician, discusses her experience and the results of practicing different types of farming.

“Our family farm has practiced all three farming systems simultaneously – conventional, biotechnology and certified organic. These farming systems are not mutually exclusive and really require only variations in management than anything else. There is not one “philosophy” that makes a farm more sustainable than another because one must take into account the soil type, weather patterns, and growing region as important impacts toward advantages and disadvantages of what might be a sustainable practice as compared to another region. There is no cookie cutter methodology that says one method is superior to another as the success of a certain technique varies by soil type, weather pattern and growing region.  These three things are the most critical to sustainability over any system or technique.”

Read the full response here

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