Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Chemical Agriculture 108 - Promiscuous Pollen

Pollen is by nature promiscuous. Corn disperses pollen prolifically so we should believe that GMO pollen carried by the jet stream has invaded and mated with local corn varieties in much of the world. A paper published in Nature showed how genes from GMO corn entered local varieties of corn in Mexico, where GM crops are banded. The corroborated results show 1 percent contamination by GM varieties.

Promiscuous GMO Pollen is already far and wide in our world. But is this an issue? Well it certainly could be.

Some of these patented genetic forms can find their way unintended in seed saved by farmers for their own use. The owners of these genes then figure they need a royalty for the seed their genetic material contaminated. If this sounds a little heavy handed, it is. As an organic farmer, I don't want any GMO materials in my seeds.

What troubles many scientists about genetic modification are quirks known as pleiotophic effects, when one gene influences multiple, seemingly unrelated phenotypic traits. These variations in how a plant looks and acts are caused unintentionally when scientists insert genes, and they aren't predictable.   For example, a gene spliced into a plant that makes it resistant to insects, could also make the same plan change color, grow taller or have weird shaped leaves, all completely unforeseen. When this happens the scientists discard these rogue plants.

But what if they don't catch the new trait and unpredictable consequences result. Almost anything you can imagine is possible and that is one of the most scary things about the roulette of genetic engineering. Maybe Bt corn kills friendly butterflies. Maybe GM squash is toxic to insects that keep another virulent species at bay. Maybe there are people that are sensitive to GMOs in the food chain.

The public should be aware of the concerns and they are real.

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