Genetically Engineered Crops: Proceed with Caution
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Humans have been modifying plants since they were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago (Kislev 2004). One of the oldest methods of intentional modification was selective breeding, done by finding wild types of a particular plant with desirable characteristics and breeding them together so that the desirable characteristics will all be found in the offspring, without too many undesirable traits thrown in. Over the course of many generations of breeding and selecting for the desired traits, a crop with overall acceptable and desirable characteristics can be achieved. However, this is a long and wasteful process, and it is equally likely that the undesirable results will replace the desirable ones. Selective breeding is an example of a change in an organism’s genome (genetic makeup) directed by humans, and is considered genetic modification (GM). Genetic engineering (GE) is a modern extension of GM and refers to the process in which one or several genes are taken from the genome of one organism and added to the genome of an unrelated organism, where natural exchange of genetic material is impossible (Three… 2014). 1 The first genetically engineered organism (GEO) was created in 1973 (Genetics…2004) and the first commercial product resulting from GE was released in 1982: insulin, produced as a byproduct of E. coli cells engineered to contain the human insulin gene (American RadioWorks 2014). GE was the subject of controversy in its early years – so much so that in 1982, the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine issued a statement on GE, titled “Splicing Life.” This report presented the controversy surrounding GE and advised caution – though much of the apprehension surrounding the implications of GE was toward the prospect of genetically modifying humans (President’s… 1982). Genetically engineered 2 crops are now widely available as consumer crops, since the failed Flavr Savr Tomato in 1992 (Bruening and Lyons 2000) – and the merits of the modified plants continue to be debated in 2014.
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