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Question

What is the difference between a hybrid and a GMO? Neither method alters genes, correct?

Submitted by: RobinsNest


Answer

Expert response from Brandon Hunnicutt

Farmer

Thursday, 15/08/2013 15:31

Great question. Let me start with a few definitions.

 

Biotech - GM seeds can use traditional breeding techniques but also use genetic engineering resulting in a seed that has a specific gene of known function from another plant or organism.   

 

Hybrid - Hybridization is a traditional breeding technique where, commonly in plants, the pollen from one plant is used to fertilize another related or unrelated plant species.  “Hybrids” are the offspring of such a cross.

 

In the 1930s, breeders used hybridization to their advantage by crossing a “pure line” of plant (a strain or subtype of a plant variety in which desired characteristics appear in successive generations) with another pure line.  This process created offspring that always had the same traits and that were stronger than either of the parent plants strains individually (“hybrid vigor”).   Hybrids came to dominate the corn market, and the technique was applied to other crops as well.  In the United States, 95 percent of the corn acreage is planted with hybrid corn, enabling us to produce six times more corn on three percent fewer acres than we did 80 years ago.  So, since hybrids are created through a traditional breeding technique they can be organic, conventional or GM.

 

We see this everyday on our farm because of the different kinds of corn we grow.  Our corn grown for cattle and ethanol tends to be biotech.  Our popcorn is a hybrid popcorn with no biotech traits in it.  Our production seed corn is the process of taking two different plants and combining their traits for the corn that farmers will plant next year.

 

Also, a note on organic seeds, which must be produced under organic certification program, that is, the farm meets the requirements of the USDA National Organic Program (using only fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides that are considered natural, or for which exceptions have been made such as the use of antibiotics).  Farmers who want to grow organic crops are required to use organically produced seeds, if they are available.  If organically produced seeds are not commercially available, then farmers may use conventional seeds and still call the resulting crops ³organic² as long as the farm meets the practices required by the  USDA National Organic Program.

 

Whether one is growing biotech corn, hybrid corn or organic corn, they all go through much of the same process to create a hybrid with the traits that are desired.  There is a process of taking the pollen from one plant and putting it on the silks on another plant.  This allows two plants to combine and form the seed with the desired traits that will be planted for next year. So all seeds are created/developed using a traditional breeding technique, for example, selective breeding, hybridization or mutagenesis.  The biggest difference is what happens before and after this process depending on whether the seed is biotech, hybrid, or organic.