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Genetic Engineering/GMOs - Advancements

GMO foods, in their current state, are clearly controversial and hazardous. In fact, Mendocino County has banned all GMO products in their region, and other counties are following suit. (More...)

Like most technology industries, though, GMO advancements are varied, and it's possible that some new processes are [more] natural and less harmful.

Some new methods don't use antibiotics or mix DNA across species anymore. Similar to genetic engineering in mammal reproduction, some involve cloning and some involve manipulation of an organism's existing DNA.

Also similar to engineered mammal reproduction, however, the ethical and health factors are still controversial and untested in the long-term.

Plants genetically possess strong defenses

The premise behind the newest types of genetic-engineering is that plants already possess the gene makeup to be robust, nutritious and pest-resistant.

Some believe that man's imprecise cross-breeding on farms over the centuries has inadvertently weakened plant species to be less nutritious and/or vulnerable to pathogens and pests. Others believe plants have simply degraded from environmental effects.

Since the advent of gene cataloging, scientists can now determine which exact genes are responsible for positive traits in plants. They believe it's simply a matter of manipulating those genes to develop or come out of dormancy.

Cross-breeding same species

Referred to as "transgenetics", scientists identify which genes are responsible for positive traits (like nutrition level or pest-resistance) in a certain species.

They then take thousands of the most healthy, naturally pest-resistant varieties that possess a certain gene and cross-breed them in a laboratory.

Offspring plants that possess the particular, marked gene are planted in a field and tested. (Genes are marked with dye, not antibiotics.) Those that die or weaken in the field are rejected; those that survive and remain strong are distributed.

Sometimes the resulting offspring have ended up stronger than even the original wild and naturally strong "parent" plants.

Manipulating species' existing DNA

A newer method, referred to as "transgenomics", does not involve DNA marking or insertions.

Scientists believe certain traits are created not only by a particular gene, but by the way groups of genes interact with each other.

So, a species that possesses a desired trait is studied to identify which interaction of genes causes that positive outcome. That gene interaction is then "taught" to another crop species. The second species is stimulated to start mimicking that interaction, and the desired trait results.

Problems in the past

Historically, every advancement and development process in the GMO field has been snatched up and patented by private conglomerates, which are notorious for not using the technology in an ethical or conscientious way. They typically use it to monopolize the market and build dependencies on their products.

Hope for the future?

Both methods described above are for the most part un-patentable. This means that, IF they are shown to be safe for the environment and our health, they could become a viable solution to increase yields quickly, lower the use of conventional fertilizers and pesticides, and be distributed internationally at affordable prices.

In fact, the scientist involved with "transgenomics" is pushing for agricultural bio-engineering "Open Source", the development model that has helped improve the computer software industry. The public could then share information to adopt the best methods, and the power (and benefits) would be spread to the majority.

What about organics?

IF these new types of "natural" GMOs are shown to produce healthy crops and be beneficial to the environment and our health, they could – in theory – be used in conjunction with organic farming methods to produce what Wired Magazine calls "Super Organics".
More about the Benefits of Organics.