Natural GMOs: the Sweet Potato

posted in: Science | 174

Several months ago, a paper was published about sweet potatoes being “natural GMOs”. It got a lot of coverage in the press. I thought that it was high time that I read the original paper to see what it was all about.

Agrobacteriumgall
Agrobacterium induced gall (Wikimedia commons)

The paper is freely available in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). The paper starts by defining horizontal gene transfer. This naturally occurring process is when a gene goes from one species to another, and has been studied quite a bit in bacteria. Scientists are starting to identify instances of horizontal gene transfer in non-bacterial organisms: sometimes the gene that gets transferred ends up being non-functional, but sometimes it continues performing its original function. Consequently, horizontal gene transfer can be important in the evolution of species.

When individuals oppose GMOs claiming that these are not natural since scientists are taking a gene from one species and adding it to another, it is often pointed out that horizontal gene transfer happens “naturally” without any human intervention. To understand this point (and the importance of this paper), it is necessary to explain one of the more common methods that scientists use for transgenesis: Agrobacterium-mediated transformation.

Agrobacterium-Mediated Transformation

The summary below is from this freely available review (any additional references are indicated). The Agrobacterium genus has many different bacteria that cause different plant diseases. For genetic engineering, the species used is Agrobacterium tumefaciens which causes crown gall disease. Crown galls are growths on plants, similar to tumors (when reviewing this piece, my husband informed me that many of the gardening books that he’s read highlight the fact that you’re not supposed to use pruning shears on plants that have galls without cleaning them, so that you don’t transfer the bacteria from one plant to another). Galls develop when a chunk of DNA from the bacteria, known as Ti-DNA (Tumor inducing) gets added to the plant’s own DNA. For this to happen, the DNA needs to get cut out of the bacteria, transported into the plant cell, and integrated into the plant’s genome. This process is carried out by proteins that are made by the bacteria known as vir genes (virulence), and there’s quite a few of them that perform different tasks in the transformation process.

The vir genes get activated by sensing compounds that are released when a plant is injured. Think of the injury as an alarm bell that suddenly alerts the Agrobacterium to the fact that infection is now possible. Once the vir proteins are active, they process the bacterial DNA that will be transported into the plant cell. This DNA is flanked on both sides by a very short segment of DNA that acts as a recognition site for vir proteins which then cut the DNA. Think of the short DNA segments as neon lights flashing “CUT HERE”. Once the vir proteins cut the DNA, it is transported by proteins across a channel in the plant’s cell wall. In this process, different vir proteins transport the DNA, protect the DNA from getting degraded, and also form the channel to get the DNA into the plant cell, so there are many players in this process. Once it’s in the plant cell’s nucleus, the bacterial DNA gets integrated with the plant DNA, and several mechanisms have been proposed as to how this may happen. Once the DNA gets integrated, it can activate gall-causing proteins using the plant’s own cellular machinery. The DNA that gets transferred from the bacterium to the plant is known as T-DNA (Transfer-DNA. Remember this one, because the abbreviation will be used in the paper).

In genetic engineering, the Agrobacterium has been engineered such that the bacteria no longer causes tumors. Additionally, the T-DNA consists of the gene that scientists want to transfer into the plant, such as the gene that confers Round-Up resistance, or a gene that may confer drought resistance.

12039401_10204885832853802_3297836761623373322_n
Fear inducing meme from GMO Inside. Rebranded by David Avocado Wolfe.

Many anti-GMO websites will use emotional phrases such as “GMOs use bacteria that cause cancer in plants” (see the image from GMO Inside! that I’ve shared here). Although the statement is correct, it’s a half truth because the bacteria has been engineered to no longer cause tumors in plants. So the intent is to evoke fear by combining scary or emotional phrases and terms.

So now we’ll get back to the paper.

The Sweet Potato: Nature’s GMO

The paper outlines that the sweet potato is “one of the oldest domesticated crops in the Americas”. Archaeological studies have found it in caves dating back as far as 8,000-10,000 years. There are 13 known species and 2 naturally occurring hybrids. The authors explain that in a previous study that was studying short RNA molecules in sweet potato, they had found RNA molecules that were similar to Agrobacterium, so they decided to investigate this further by looking for Agrobacterium T-DNA sequences in the genome of the sweet potato. First, they took the snippets that they had identified in their first study and confirmed that they were real using a different technology. This is important, because it highlights that their findings weren’t due to contamination or some issue related to the methodology they chose. Once this had been confirmed, they went on to identify the entire T-DNA sequence in the sweet potato genome. They found two large regions of Agrobacterium rhizogenes DNA: this bacteria is from the Agrobacterium family and it creates galls in plant roots. The two regions of Agrobacterium DNA that they identified in the sweet potato genome contained the code for potentially 9 different proteins. Again, these findings were confirmed using a different technique.

They found that one of these large DNA segments had gotten inserted into the sweet potato genome at a site where there was a gene, thereby interrupting the gene. They found evidence suggesting that the gene that was interrupted was active before the large DNA segment interrupted it.

The authors went on to determine if the genes in the large DNA segments that were inserted into the sweet potato were turned on. They did this by checking to see if the inserted DNA had been transcribed into RNA. Sure enough, the inserted genes were turned on; not at very high levels but still detectable in most tissues.

The authors decided to check to see if the genes that had been inserted into the sweet potato they were studying were also present in other sweet potato varieties. They selected a wide variety of plants from different continents. They found that one of the large DNA segments was present in nearly every domesticated sweet potato plant examined, but wasn’t present in wild sweet potatoes. The second large DNA segment wasn’t present in every sweet potato variety. The authors hypothesize that the widespread presence of one of the large DNA segment in domesticated sweet potatoes suggests that it caused a trait that we (humans) selected for.

The paper concludes with this paragraph “Agrobacterium-mediated transformation has been the method of choice for the development of genetically modified crops. Despite their cultivation on more than 170 million ha, the growth and consumption of transgenic crops still faces societal opposition. This has impeded their use in efforts to contribute to a more sustainable agricultural future. Our data reveal that T-DNA integration, the interruption of an F-box gene, and the subsequent fixation of foreign T-DNA into the sweet potato genome occurred during the evolution and domestication of this crop, which is one of the world’s most consumed foods. This finding could influence the public’s current perception that transgenic crops are “unnatural.” ”

Why is this Paper Important

I think it’s important to highlight the key features of the paper, with respect to genetic engineering (the points below are my thoughts and summary).

  • Thousands of years ago, a bacteria closely related to the bacteria used to create GMOs, inserted a bunch of genes into the sweet potato. The GMOs currently on the market add fewer genes than what was naturally introduced into the sweet potato.
  • The introduction of these genes into the sweet potato generated an “unintended consequence”: namely, that a sweet potato gene was interrupted.
  • The fact that these changes are present in domesticated sweet potatoes and not wild sweet potatoes points to the strong possibility that they were selected by artificial selection. In natural selection, it’s the survival of the fittest where the genes that give reproductive and survival advantages usually win. So a mutant plant that creates a more toxic substance may propagate its genes because fewer predators will eat it. In artificial selection, it’s the genes that are most convenient for humans that win out, and we see it most commonly in agriculture and animal breeding. That means that we might select for genes that create cuddly dogs. Or we might select for genes that give rise to sweeter fruit. But that does not mean that the Chihuahuas that we’ve created and the oranges that we’ve bred are the strongest to survive out in the wild. If the genes examined in this paper did in fact give the sweet potato selective advantage out in the wild, then odds are that the wild sweet potatoes would have the gene, too. So this point, that we humans selected for a mutant that arose through transgenesis, defies the anti-GMO argument that nature has created what is naturally best over the course of evolution. The incredible irony is that what we selected for was transgenic in origin.
  • I think the example of
    IMG_1833
    Organic GMO-Free Sweet Potato Cakes from Costco. Photo by Layla Katiraee.

    the sweet potato can make the legal definition of the term “GMO” more difficult. If it’s defined as a crop where genes have been added by Agrobacterium, then should the sweet potato be excluded?

  • This is a great example for individuals who think that genes from viruses or bacteria in crops are “unnatural” (or what I call “The Ick Factor”).

In conclusion, I usually don’t use the argument that “everything we eat is a GMO”. But, in the case of the sweet potato, the genes added arose by Agrobacterium-mediated transgenesis, which is a method used in modern-day genetic engineering. So next time you’re shopping, remember that the “Organic, GMO-Free, Sweet Potato Cakes” that are for sale at Costco have bacterial DNA and proteins in them.

Follow Layla Katiraee:

Layla Parker-Katiraee holds a PhD in Molecular Genetics from the University of Toronto and a Bachelors degree in biochemistry from the University of Western Ontario. She is currently a Staff Scientist in DNA Sequencing Product Development. All views and opinions expressed are her own.

  • Miri

    This is great for clarity on defining what GMO’s are but doesn’t address the elephant in the room. How is Round-up impacting food production in the long term? Hint: Look into the farmers committing suicide in India (and the USA.)

    • Jason

      I’m confused on what you’re proposing. Roundup ready crops are not used in India. I am sure Roundup is used in some fashion (as it is almost everywhere), but what “elephant in the room” is there regarding suicides and roundup?

    • Perhaps, you should read this…
      geneticliteracyproject.org/glp-facts/vandana-shiva/

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      The elephant is a myth. I am surprised you are not aware of this. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/nov/05/gmcrops-india

    • Dominick Dickerson

      Concerns about glyphosate use are not concerns about genetic engineering.

      Also concerns about the dire socioeconomic situation that global farmers often find themselves in arent concerns about genetic engineering,

      Those are conversations separate and distinct from conversations about genetic engineering.

      • Miri

        Are our food crops genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate application?

        • Dominick Dickerson

          Some are but there have also been plants bred through nonGE methods for glyphosate resistance and glyphosate is used on non GE crops as well.

          Glyphosate is just one herbicide tolerance trait and herbicide tolerance is just one type of trait that can be introduced using genetic engineering. So it’s not really appropriate to conflate glyphosate tolerance with genetic engineering.

    • Hi Miri,
      As other individuals have noted below, the alleged link between GMOs and farmers committing suicide in India is false. Please see the graphs and information in this article: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/the-myth-of-indias-gm-genocide-genetically-modified-cotton-blamed-for-wave-of-farmer-suicides
      or https://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/files/2014/01/GMOsuicidemyth.pdf

      • Miri

        While statistics are helpful they don’t show the reality of a situation and can be easily skewed. I trust the conversations I’ve had with farmers.
        What about the meat of my previous comment? …”impacting food production in the long term?” I am curious to know what your answer would be as I’m interested in debate for the purpose of finding solutions.

        • Dr Andrew Kniss’ recent post about trade offs in ag has many of my thoughts on the topic of Round-Up impacting food production: http://weedcontrolfreaks.com/2016/03/everything-in-agriculture-is-a-trade-off/

          If you don’t believe the numbers and stats I’ve provided, please tell me what numbers (not opinions) show that GMOs cause the suicide of farmers in India.

          • Miri

            I guess I can see why you might think I was saying that but I didn’t. The “hint” was to bring up the complexity of this issue. The elephant in the room is the socio-economic and environmental impacts of what I broadly paint as the irresponsible practices of corporate America. Issues surrounding GMOs are part of that entrenched and ever increasingly dysfunctional system. Should corporate America be held accountable for taking advantage of an economic situation where it can profit regardless of the impacts to individuals? I know, I know, this is getting deep ( 😉 ) and I ask too much, right? As it is with big cumbersome things, it can take a long time to get turned around.

            More to the point, I’m not anti-GMO as I have first hand experience growing GMO plants and “heritage” plants. I also come from a successful farming family which has never used chemicals so I know the realities and viability of that situation.

            From my pov the issue surrounding GMO is more that the multinational companies are doing very little to create a system based on effective healthy practices and outcomes. Why would I trust their handling of GMOs? Yes, I think the people with the “power” ought to be held accountable for taking a proportionate amount of responsibility. Is that anti-capitalism?

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Good job. This paper will completely destroy the use of the “it ain’t natural” argument and we’ll never hear it again.Ever. Can I post in Mr. Farmers Neighborhood site?

    • Hi Eric, go ahead! Can you just add a note stating that it was originally published here with a link to it? Thanks!

      • Eric Bjerregaard

        Posted. It is a FB agricultural information site. Please visit and make a few suggestions.

  • Miri

    I’m not interested in becoming yet another talking head among “trash” talkers. If one is completely convinced of a view and can’t debate without resorting to hurling insults and feigning confusion then there’s no way solutions will be found within that conversation. Are current farming practices effective, adequate or (god forbid we ask!) healthy? The answers aren’t simple and I’m not interested in demonizing anyone. Et vous?

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Trash talk??? Jason was a tad sarcastic, yet correct. Further this is information that has been available for a long time. So, he was likely a bit surprised by your comment. Please read the paper I posted and there are more that bring up some of the same facts https://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/files/2014/01/GMOsuicidemyth.pdf

      • Miri

        Do you know any farmers?

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          Yes.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Also, it would be hard to demonize Shiva, She has done that to herself.

    • Dominick Dickerson

      Define “current farming practices”?

      Genetic engineering and conventional farming are undoubtedly “effective, adequate” and “healthy” or at the very least as much as alternatives.

    • WeGotta

      “Are current farming practices effective, adequate or (god forbid we ask!) healthy?”

      I think there is enough evidence to say they can be done much better.

      • Dominick Dickerson

        agriculture and food production has been following a long arc of continual innovation and improvement since its inception in the Neolithic past. It’s something that’s dynamic and changing. As our knowledge of biology genetics and ecology improves we can create more productive and more sustainable systems that better manage the inevitable externalities that come from humanities never ending quest to feed itself. There’s always room for improvement, but improvement doesn’t mean throwing out modern chemistry and a century of advancements in crop breeding.

        • WeGotta

          Nobody said we need to “throw out” anything.
          But to say our food system in the US is a wonder of modernity and efficiency creating healthy food for all the country is wholly false.

          More modern techniques for breeding plants won’t help that.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Why would you make the claim of false when farmers are clearly supplying the needed raw materials to safely and cost effectively feed almost 100 people per farmer. And no, the fact that some choose to convert to and purchase processed foods is not the result of agriculture. It is another topic completely.

            • WeGotta

              Just walk in a grocery store and see the junk farmers provide us and then walk in a hospital and see what people are suffering from.

              • Eric Bjerregaard

                See, I anticipated the foolish comment you would respond with and you still didn’t find anything better. Farmers do not provide junk that puts folks in a hospital. People’s choices and the processors do that. go look up conflate a few times before each argument…Please.

                • WeGotta

                  The whole system in place is all of our faults. It’s clear the system is failing many people.

                  If you want to place blame on others and absolve yourself of all responsibility then welcome to the human race. You fit right in.

                  • Eric Bjerregaard

                    No, I am not responsible for trends that started before I was even born.

                    • WeGotta

                      Where did I say you were?

                      All any of us can do is try and see the world as it is without the need to cling to false identification with some mental abstraction which will inevitably change.

                      We are all responsible for what exists now. Looking to blame people in the past is not helpful. Looking to blame people for their past actions is not helpful.

                    • Eric Bjerregaard

                      You said “we” as I bear some guilt for processed foods and obesity. I am not and many others are not as well.

                    • WeGotta

                      Of course you don’t think you are to blame.
                      Just stupid people making stupid choices right?

                    • Eric Bjerregaard

                      Again, moving the goalposts. Try explaining how I am even partially to blame for any of that.I didn’t even use the word stupid. Though buying such stuff in excess isn’t gonna get one a genius award. The entire second paragraph is irrelevant. Food is what is relevant here. And yes, people buying too much processed are why companies make them. Less customers would quickly reduce the presence of such in our stores.

                    • WeGotta

                      Not moving anything. We, as a society, are to blame for our societal problems.

                      I personally do not blame people for certain behavior (eating too much processed food) when:
                      -We are advertised this junk from birth. In fact, many scientists earn paychecks trying to get us to buy more and more.
                      -We are exposed to this junk nearly every single public place we go.
                      -We are lied to by our government who can’t even get national guidelines for healthy eating put out without kowtowing to the industry that makes unhealthy food.
                      -Most of the supermarkets are filled with it
                      -We use advanced science to create more of it.
                      -Those same people are struggling to make ends meet because corporations (like those 6 or so who own nearly all of the junk food and those few who own nearly all of the media) make it impossible to earn a living wage anymore.

                      But don’t you personally worry about other people or the consequences to all of us because those people are suffering.
                      There is no compassion requirement to be part of the human race.

                    • Eric Bjerregaard

                      NO, as a society. Baloney, Individuals are responsible for their own actions. Not society’s Collectivized nonsense. In fact your whole comment is just a word salad of hippy nonsense. If you make stupid choices. It is on you. Not society, marketers, food processors or corporations. How many times do I have to tell you that most businesses are corporations. It is a neutral business legal structure. Just like a partnership or sole proprietorship. Now quit the crap and take a high school econ class.

                    • WeGotta

                      Very few people in the world are actually free enough to make their own decisions.
                      By far, most people are clouded by ideology, cultural influences, personal experiences and a long list of other conditions which led up to their distinctly unique worldview.
                      Oh, but that’s just more “hippy nonsense” right?
                      I’m sure you are fully conscious and act as an entirely free agent in the world with no bias whatsoever.
                      I’m sure you are immune to influence of any kind.

                      There is nothing “neutral” in the way these tools are being used against us.
                      Lying and cheating are not “just part of business”, so quit trying to make excuses for such behavior.
                      Bribing government so you can make more stuff that is known to cause harm to people is not part of any economics class.

                    • Eric Bjerregaard

                      And not a word of that bunk is relevant to sweet potatoes. Which are modified.

                    • Needham’s M. Garden

                      Food is never to blame for ones weight or health. Food is a fuel – eat to much and not burn it off and guess what? A storage tank or 2 will appear.

                      People choosing to adopt a sedentary lifestyle and eat like a team of oxen – guess what – that is not sustainable.

              • Needham’s M. Garden

                While all this seems very complicated and cloudy – it really is not.
                You see the “fear” industry quite clearly charted their destiny when they said “no way” to modern science and specifically GM tech.
                Give them credit they fooled a lot of people with no connections to real farming.
                Now they made their “bed” and they remain in it.
                It will not matter how much wonderful things happen in ag in the next 10 years they will poopoo it all – but little by little look like the fools they really are.
                How long did it take for mankind to comprehend the world is not flat?
                Us guys on the side of science likely will not live long enough to see the complete victory against “anti science” – But it WILL HAPPEN.
                Those who are holding up science and progress – GET A LIFE – because every day you are ending the lives of someone needing this technology. How do you like me now?

                • WeGotta

                  You seem to think non-GMO techniques are not science based.
                  It’s a common misconception.

                  As for this personal battle you are fighting, I would say Godspeed.
                  Whatever happens is perfectly okay with me. I don’t expect things to be my way or to stay the same. That’s a recipe for a bitter life filled with disappointment.

          • Dominick Dickerson

            Conventional agriculture as employed throughout the out food system efficiently produces healthy food.

            Your ideological opposition to row cropping and grain farming doesn’t make those practices inefficient or unhealthy.

            Your last sentence can only be said by someone who doesn’t understand plant breeding. And that’s okay. No one expects everyone to know everything.

            • WeGotta

              I don’t have any opposition to row cropping and grain farming. People can do what they want. I’ll buy it or I won’t. I’ll do it differently myself or I won’t.

              I do have opposition to claims that we are a “modern”, “smart”, “scientific”, or “caring” society when the facts dispute such claims.

              How does the statement “Looking to blame people for their past actions is not helpful” mean I don’t understand plant breeding?

              • Dominick Dickerson

                Your sentence was “more modern techniques for breeding plants won’t help that” and the ” that” I’m assuming refers to creating an efficient food system that produces healthy food.

                That statement belies how little you know about plant breeding.

                • WeGotta

                  We could make vast improvements to both the efficiency of our food systems and the health of our population right NOW with no need for any GM techniques.
                  We could feed the world without it.
                  These are facts.

                  That’s because GM is just one way of manipulating plants and animals. Many ways exist already.
                  And plant breeding itself is just one small part in agriculture, there are many parts.
                  And agriculture is itself a complicated topic which intersects with many other complicated topics.

                  There definitely needs to be some “new thinking” for how we produce our food. But I’d weight it as 99.9% not related to GE techniques for plant breeding.

                  • Dominick Dickerson

                    I fail to understand how improving plant breeding could be anything but a boon regardless of changes to cultivation or management practices. And genetic engineering isn’t contrary to improving efficiency or producing healthy food in any way, so I don’t understand the opposition to it. Utilizing improved plant breeding techniques in no way diminishes our capacity to utilize other innovative new approaches, it can only supplement them.

                    The take home message from the sweet potato is that the processes used in modern biotechnology have ancient roots and further illustrate how biotechnology is an extension of “natural” processes humans have utilized to improve crops for millennia. The difference is with sweet potato the trangenic event was random and accidental, where now we can utilize the same processes with purpose and intent utilizing our ever expanding knowledge of genetics and biological systems.

                    • WeGotta

                      I’m not against any technology.
                      I’d just rather pick up my trusty flathead screwdriver rather than a diamond headed, gold studded, patented, expensive widget if I could do the job with the former.

                      The US hasn’t even developed a plan for a rational and logical food production and delivery system; none that I’ve seen. So who really knows what is the best tool for the job when we don’t even know what is the job.
                      There are no goals. Just a big free-for-all like the rest of our economy and social systems. And this is what we all get.
                      Adequate, yes. Ideal, no.

                      It’s a perfect model for America and what we really stand for when you get past all the talk. Cheap food that’s killing us and our planet while enriching the already rich and wrecking the economy for average Americans.

                      But like I said, do what you want. I’m not stopping anyone with comments and the industry probably spends more money on lobbyists’ coffee than it loses from my tendency to avoid GMO when possible.

                    • Dominick Dickerson

                      American Agriculture is amongst the safest and most productive systems for food production in the world. And there is a plan for production and distribution, it’s called the free market. Innovators create new technology and practices where they see a need, farmers choose to adopt these advances if they find some value to it and the rest of us who don’t produce food exchange money in the market for the food we need to survive.

                      See you can’t help but contradict yourself. Like when you said you’re not against row cropping and grain farming and then turn around and make hyperbolic unsubstantiated claims that those practices (which are key components of our agricultural system) are producing “cheap food that’s killing us and the planet” and “wrecking the economy”.

                      This isn’t about protecting the biotech industry, it’s about correcting your ignorance relating to modern plant breeding techniques and the role they have in improving our food systems. Your more general criticisms of agriculture and capitalism don’t really apply to the issue at hand.

  • WeGotta

    If “nature” did it in some field it doesn’t meet the accepted definition of GMO.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      Or perhaps the definition needs to be updated as this article clearly shows. Just think,8000 years of safety. Don’cha love it?

      • WeGotta

        Go for it.

        But if you think science is on your side when you claim the method of producing that sweet potato are identical to the methods people use in the lab you are wrong.

        We can see the end result of what looks like horizontal gene transfer but we cannot see all the steps that were done to create this particular variety of potato.

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          “identical” another attempt at being arbitrary. While the sweet potato was not deliberately engineered in a nice safe clean lab. It is clearly a gmo. Just like cattle. http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/01/how-a-quarter-of-the-cow-genome-came-from-snakes/

          • WeGotta

            There is nothing “clear” about that statement and any attempts to make it seem as such is not supported by science.

            You can’t have it both ways. Either science is some thing that requires you to follow the appropriate steps and only make conclusions based upon reproducible data or it’s not.

            • Eric Bjerregaard

              Was it modified? By agrobacterium? Did you read the whole article?

              • WeGotta

                Everything is modified since everything changes.

                You can’t have it both ways. Either science is some thing that requires you to follow the appropriate steps and only make conclusions based upon reproducible data or it’s not.

                Science is either specific and detailed or it is not.

                • Eric Bjerregaard

                  Ummm, science didn’t produce this modification. It happened by accident, in nature. This is one that need not be reproducible. It’s existence is all we need.

          • WeGotta

            Definition of Identical: similar in every detail; exactly alike.

            That’s on the other end of the spectrum from “arbitrary” which is defined as this: based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.

            So once again, you show with your own comments that you don’t understand such things.

        • Pezdrake

          More magical thinking. All food boils down (no pun intended) to genes and molecules. You are attempting to attribute special qualities that don’t exist to some crops and not to others. There is no practical difference between taking a gene from one organism and putting it in another in nature vs the lab. Your entire position derives from the misconception that there is a “natural” way to do things and an “unnatural” way. This borderlines on delusion.

          • WeGotta

            Nope.

            I said there is no way of knowing what exactly happened in the process which ended up with that potato.
            I never said anything about there being a “natural” way. Humans are part of nature and what humans do can be considered natural.

            “There is no practical difference between taking a gene from one organism and putting it in another in nature vs the lab.”
            That’s a great example of how you actually believe everything you are accusing me of believing.. This statement is not logical or supported by science. There are many “practical” differences between those processes.

          • WeGotta

            “All food boils down (no pun intended) to genes and molecules.”

            Another of your fantasies. There is much more to food than just molecules.

            • Dominick Dickerson

              How so?

              Youre not going to launch into some evidence free tirade about spirituality of food are you? The food you consume is simply molecules arranged in ways dictated by the genetics of the organism it came from. There’s no supernatural qualities to corn or avocados or chocolate.

              • WeGotta

                Food is also culture, religion, community, health, economy, life, and celebration among other things. It has been the birth and death for many civilizations.

                That’s the problem when you start to mistake science for the things science can help us understand.

                • Dominick Dickerson

                  Nope, food is just molecules. All those things are values you have imposed on food but the food itself is simply arrangements of molecules. More to the point how does this relate back to genetic engineering or the natural “gmo” the sweet potato?

                  • WeGotta

                    I remember once you said you do science to help people.
                    Why do you feel some emotional attachment to those molecular arrangements called people and not to those molecular arrangements called food?

                    Are you dispassionate about everything?

                    I think people forget that science is just a tool we use to understand life.
                    It’s not life itself and it should never be used as an excuse to minimize our wonder and amazement.

                    I don’t really see the point (scientifically or otherwise) of trying to ignore all those things that make us human beyond the temporary molecular arrangements.

                    • Dominick Dickerson

                      I’m not talking about humanity im talking about food.

                      And yes practicing having a dispassionate mind leads to greater understanding unencumbered by emotional biases. I try strive to be as dispassionate as possible when discerning truth from falsehood.

                      On the contrary a scientific understanding does nothing to minimize wonder and amazement. It enhances it in unimaginable ways.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      good answer

        • Now I start to see your point. It is very much aligned with EU legislation, which basically says that the process is what needs to be regulated. Then obviously it is important to categorise processes as either GMO or nonGMO, because it triggers the regulation. However processes develop rather fast and once we will settle whether some new technique creates GMO or nonGMO, new tecniques will emerge. Endless argument. Why dont we regulate the end result instead? That would be technique independent and we could move on to more important things.

          • WeGotta

            Personally, I don’t see how you could ever hope to regulate such things.
            Not at this particular junction in history.

            • Again exactly my point. The whole point of regulation of something called “GMO” is just to use fear for economic gain. Our beloved EU is a master in this game.

              • WeGotta

                You could argue that one of the strategies of the GM industry is to use fear for economic gain.

                Many people (now and throughout history) use our irrational fears for economic gain.

                Government could be the mediator, but it’s currently broken.

                • If you say that GM industry uses power of money, I would not argue with you. But I dont see how they are using fear. What I meant is that the whole opposition to GM evolved from the EU effort to limit food imports. It is very finely crafted so that EU-made GM products are exempt from regulations (like chymosin in cheese) but immaterial ritual “contamination” from GMO in highly refined products such as oil or sugar is regulated, because it is a good reason to make the sale of imported processed food difficult or impossible. I cannot comment on your feeling that government is broken. I have probably never lived in a country where it was not broken. Maybe with the exception of few years in the US, but it could have changed since then.

                  • Needham’s M. Garden

                    There is only ONE INDUSTRY USING FEAR – and if it were to cease – these silly debates would not exist. Can no one else understand that all food fear stories hatch from the same starting place?
                    It may take a few years but mankind is intelligent enough to someday realize they are being scammed and this industry will fall flat on its face at some point and die the painful death it deserves.

    • Dominick Dickerson

      No it doesn’t meet your arbitrary political definition of “gmo”. But the sweet potato contains sequences of bacterial origin that have been introgressed into its own genome using the same agrobacterium mediated transformation process that many if not most GE plants on the market have been created with.

      • WeGotta

        Not “arbitrary” at all. There must be a human involved to be considered GMO since it’s humans who want to go around patenting things and imposing them on others.

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          Nope, that’s arbitrary.

          • WeGotta

            Then all definitions are.

            • Eric Bjerregaard

              No, but your comment is arbitrary.

              • WeGotta

                Then all comments are.

                • Eric Bjerregaard

                  No, those who comment to oppose you are using reasoned comments. With actual facts to back them up.

                  • WeGotta

                    Of course. According to your arbitrary notions.

                    • Eric Bjerregaard

                      Nope, backed by facts is not arbitrary.

                    • WeGotta

                      Now we are getting somewhere.

                      You think that “those who comment to oppose you are using reasoned comments” is a factual statement.

                      Is that what you are saying?

                    • Eric Bjerregaard

                      Only if they are commenting to oppose those who oppose the facts of the matter. In this case you.

        • Dominick Dickerson

          No you’ve just moved the goal posts. By any scientific definition of “gmo”, which entails an organism that contains nonendogenous gene sequences inserted via some means other that sexual reproduction, the sweet potato would be included.

          • WeGotta

            Then take it up with Merriam Webster.

            Most people would call red, painful skin after sunning a “sunburn” but you could find other things to call it such as a radiation injury in some science book.

            • Dominick Dickerson

              By any definition of the term genetic modification it’s clear that the process that occurred in sweet potato (the transfer of nonendogenous genes from a bacteria to a plant via agrobacterium) is the same as what occurs in the generation of most GE crops including the dreaded roundup ready crops. I know in one iteration the sequence for glyphosate tolerance came from a species of agrobacterium just like the sequences found in sweet potato are derived from an agrobacterium species and both were introgressed using the same mechanism. So how is one “gmo” and one isn’t ?

              • WeGotta

                Not by “any” definition.
                Here are some definitions out there:

                “Genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genome has been engineered in the laboratory in order to favour the expression of desired physiological traits or the production of desired biological products.”
                http://www.britannica.com/science/genetically-modified-organism

                Here is one from Monsanto:
                Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) – A genetically modified organism (GMO) is any organism the genetics of which have been altered through the use of modern biotechnology to create a novel combination of genetic material.
                http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/pages/glossary.aspx

                • Dominick Dickerson

                  one process used in “modern biotechnology to create a novel combination of genetic material” for the generation of GE crops is agrobacterium mediated transformation, which utilize the same mechanism that occured during the transgenic event in sweet potato back its in domestication history.

                  By the britannica definition processes like somatic hybridization would be included as well as those require some degree of engineering and are conducted in laboratories. It’s a bad definition.

                  • WeGotta

                    According to Monsanto’s definition, this potato is not GMO. Unless you want to say 8000 year old things are modern.

                    All of this is just semantics. You and I both know the real reason for this article and these arguments about wording.

                    This is just one of the many ways in which the industry and all those who benefit from the industry try to sway public opinion. It’s the newest form of advertising.

                    There is definitely some thing called GE and it’s definitely some thing that is unique and new. Using this technique definitely requires many unique considerations, all of which have many different consequences.

                    The fact that the sweet potato exists is just another example of the huge diversity in life. We should focus on using this diversity which already exists rather than being stuck defending mental concepts and monetary streams.

                    • Dominick Dickerson

                      Yeah one of the processes used in genetic engineering is agrobacterium mediated transformation which utilizes the same mechanism for the gene transfer that occured in sweet potato. So it not semantics.

                • So the Monsanto definition is kind of out-dated. Seems that the “modern technology” is not that modern. But I like the first definition better – the one with “organism whose genome has been engineered in the laboratory”, however it should also make the provision that some laboratory techniques used to modify genes or genomes are exempt from the GMO definition.

                  • WeGotta

                    Why would some be exempt?
                    I hope you aren’t going to argue that false notion that CRIPR doesn’t modify genes.

                    • I was not thinking about CRISPR. CRISPR is still undecided. I meant older lab based (or in vitro if you like) techniques like protoplast fusions, dihaploidisation, polyploidy induction, embryo rescue etc.

                    • WeGotta

                      Lots of ways to craft a definition. As many as there will be objections once you do.

                    • Exactly! That was actually my point. I am glad we agree on it.

                    • Dominick Dickerson

                      CRISPR Cas9 modifies genomes, but so does selective breeding. Under current legal definitions CRISPR edited crops wouldn’t be considered “GMOs” just like you seem to think sweet potatoes wouldn’t be.

                      Which of course all goes back to how useless and meaningless the term “gmo” actual is and how the idea of “GMOs” is is a cultural construct rather that “gmo” being an accurate scientific term.

                    • WeGotta

                      CRISPR: Modifies genes, modern, done in a lab; sounds perfectly compatible with “GMO”.

                      Sweet potato: genes modified long ago in nature; not “GMO”.

                      Conventional breeding: modifies genes, not in lab, modern or old; not “GMO”

                      Easy.

                    • It’s not that straightforward. What about chemical mutagenesis? What about induced polyploidy? Both done in the lab. Both modify genes. Both considered “traditional breeding”.

                    • WeGotta

                      None of this is straightforward and it likely will never be with so many stakeholders pushing their own interests.

                      To me, those things you list are not even close to the others. They are not direct modifiers but allow for some reaction/expression from the plants.

                      Call me what you want, but it’s my opinion that these techniques are beneath us and our abilities. I’d rather we cooperate with plants rather than cutting up their DNA and blasting their seeds with radiation for fortune, fame or vanity.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      ” cutting up their DNA and blasting their seeds with radiation for fortune, fame or vanity”

                      – is the extent to which you understand genetics and are thous terrified of it.

                      P.s. CRISPR isn’t a GMO by regulation either.

                    • WeGotta

                      Where do you get “terrified” from my comment?

                      Isn’t that literally what is done for those techniques? Own it if you think it’s okay.

                      I don’t think it’s okay to force change on other life forms to try and make up for the consequences of our own stupid actions. Especially when we can’t seem to change ourselves. Who do we think we are trashing the planet and killing one another over trinkets and mental abstractions?

                      That’s just me though. I don’t expect anyone to see it the same way.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      No, it’s not what we’ve done. We’ve engineered these traits. Those traits have been engineered. We understand the function of genes in the context of the plant, the location in the genome and the effects they have on the physiology of plant. The changes we are enacting are less impacting on change than standard breeding.

                      Your understanding of the procedure is shallow and superficial to the point of “just leave it allow. I can’t understand it, then no one else can”

                      If you want to ensure people don’t kill and pillage, they will do less of it on a full stomach. If you want to change your mindset, take some LSD and get over it.

                    • WeGotta

                      Call it whatever makes you feel better.

                      “Enhanced interrogation” makes some people feel better but I’d still call it torture.

                      How much detailed knowledge does one need about torture in order to wish it wasn’t done?

                      I take issue with your assertion that GE is “less impactful” than conventional breeding. That’s just plain nonsense.

                      Just like your assertion that somehow modern plant breeding techniques are what’s needed to fill people’s stomachs.

                      If you want people to take you seriously, try and avoid such obviously simplistic and false statements.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      Its plain nonsense to someone that doesn’t look at genomes all day long.

                      However, when you enact a 10 kb change in 6 gb genome, that far less impact than trading half of the genes and markers.

                      You don’t know what you are talking about. You have no background in genetics.

                      There’s no over simplification in the fact that genetic engineering is a necessary tool to address these issues. It’s not the only tool, but it’s one of our most powerful tools.

                    • WeGotta

                      A nuclear powered submarine is an advanced tool that is worse than worthless if you try and use it as a hammer. So stop trying to equate new, complicated or advanced as “best”.
                      All of our most pressing problems can be mitigated by simple changes in our behavior. The fact that we can’t see this or that we won’t change or that we expect scientists to come up with a way for us not to have to change is a sign of our collective stupidity.

                      Cutting up plant DNA is “less impactful” than conventional breeding as much as cutting off part of a grown man’s arm to fit in a small hole is less impactful than it is to find a smaller arm already in existence.

                      Conventional breeding is observation and selection with some plant matchmaking.
                      So again, stop trying to blow smoke up my butt while at the same time trying to claim some sort of intellectual superiority.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      “Cutting up plant DNA is “less impactful” than conventional breeding as much as cutting off part of a grown man’s arm to fit in a small hole is less impactful than it is to find a smaller arm already in existence.”

                      You don’t understand how genetics or selection works and this statement shows that in spades.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      by modern plant breeding techniques you are referring to molecular marker based selection, if you meant to or not.

                      If you want to refer to genetic engineering, it’s closer to say precision breeding.

                    • WeGotta

                      All subjective opinions.

                      I think it’s pretty precise when you see a row of sorghum and select for the ones with the most full heads.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      Well you’re wrong. Those traits will be all over the genome and breeding drag will incorporate all sorts of undesirables.

                      When you can precision breed a single allele into a precise spot in the genome, then you can call me (as you would say).

                    • WeGotta

                      I don’t for one second concede that such precision as could be accomplished in a lab adds any value whatsoever except for maybe in the commercialization of your end result.

                      That’s just salesman rhetoric. Precision is a word that could be bad or good depending on the situation.
                      I don’t want lunatics to be precise with their tools if they are attacking me.

                      How about we precisely identify some goals for our food systems?
                      No, we won’t do that. Too busy cashing in.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      Goals? You mean like less water usage (drought guard), or less disease (rainbow papaya), or less mycotoxin contamination (bt corn)?

                      or flood resistance (IRRI sub1 rice), or less CO2 emission (SUSIB2 rice)

                      How about less carcinogens in potatos (innate potatoes) or less arsenic in cassava?

                      Those all sound like goals to you?

                    • WeGotta

                      Sounds more like a commercial to me.

                      If drought or flood is a problem, let’s use the already known simple techniques to mitigate droughts and floods which would have many other benefits as well, or let’s use the other available edible plants that already use less water or can withstand flooding. There are thousands and thousands of edible plants.

                      The rainbow papaya is a bust.

                      Agroforestry and other known and simple techniques already exist which could go a long way towards taking the carbon out of the air. Let’s do that rather than forcing plants to change via the same systems and institutions that contribute to the increased carbon in the air in the first place.

                      How about we all eat less fried potatoes?

                    • Agroforestry? That’s just hippy bong talk.

                      >How about we all eat less fried potatoes?

                      How about you pull your head in and mind your own business.

                    • WeGotta

                      My goals would be enough healthy food for all Americans grown in ways that are sustainable, beneficial to the planet, incorporated into other needed infrastructure (such as flood management), and most beneficial to our own economy using the least impactful, cheapest, and most maintenance free systems possible.

                    • Needham’s M. Garden

                      You said “don’t think it’s okay to force change on other life forms”
                      Do you also then agree that it is wrong to combine sugar, flour, eggs, peanut butter etc to make a peanut butter cookie – highly unnatural you know?

                      Should mankind not have the right to use the resources out there with the technology learned to create new wonderful things?

                    • WeGotta

                      I always ask my sugar and eggs first. Screw flour tho.

                      Mankind has no rights. Who would be the one to give them?

                      The world is full of wonderful things. There’s no need to cling and grasp and steal.
                      We should use our resources wisely.

                    • Rickinreallife

                      “I don’t think it is ok to force change in other life forms. . . ” This and every other criteria you attempt to put out there for identifying “gmo’s” so we know what to label, what to fear and despise, what to sue food makers for failing to disclose on the label or to sue other food providers for labeling a product gmo free but the product contains traces of, every purpose for the gmo distinction, is a common characteristic with other techniques. Requires key parts of the process to occur under lab conditions, hardly unique to genetic engineering. Can bring in genes from non sexually compatible species, ge is not the first or only means available to do that. Results in a novel genome, all methods do that. Forces changes in other life forms, c’mon what a vague nondistinction. Herbicide tolerance, plant incorporated protectant (PIP) traits, enhanced or suppressed gene expression, all have been accomplished without genetic engineering. Unforseen or unpredictable collateral rearrangement of the genome, again everything has that potential, and I’m sorry, but people I trust who actually know are quite convinced that ge is is least troubling in that respect. How bout only utilizes tools available in nature. Again we utilize methods of horizontal gene transfer that we now know (as this article points out) has occured often in natural history. Arrive at a plant phenotype that would not or could not occur in nature. That’s everything, even if we limited ourselves to nothing more than artificial selection of spontaneous mutation. Might result in some change in nutritional, compositional, resiliency or other expression that can cause adverse health consequences, there are a number of examples where this has occured with crossbreeding, even of sexually compatible species, and yet to occur from a food product derived from a crop having acquired genetic information via ge mediated means. What about compatibility with organic husbandry. Again not helpful as an agronomic or ethical principle to let us zero in on what is and isn’t “gmo”. The exclusion of ge mediated genetics as a permitted input is as much a political and marketing decision – there are ge mediated genetics that are not incompatible, even complimentary to organic husbandry, and non ge derived genetics that could violate organic principles.

                      Every principle, moral or otherwise, for how and why those wanting labeling to distinguish “gmo food” is violated as much or more by other methods of crop improvement. You are a greased pig when others here have asked you to explain or defend a principle you offer up, you invariably jump to sociology and philosophy, how man’s hubris and incompetence has screwed everything up, which again provides little guidance on how or why to indentify products that fall under the category, gmo’s.

                      Look, if the societal enterprise we are going through now where identifying this thing we want to call “gmo” is for a symbolic purpose, then stick to that. You have quite often articulated a general principles that society needs to change its relationship with food production and consumption, and for lack of a better term at the moment, to simplify. You have touted the appeal of permaculture often, which, it may be my own lack of intimate familiarity, is more of an ideal than a working, functioning methodology, although i think some permaculture concepts might be applicable even in an intensive ag systems. But the concept of nurturing landscapes in self sustaining abundance is a lot like being in favor of peace and justice. And actually, you will have a hard time convincing me that the project utilizing ge to restore the chestnut to America’s forests doesn’t advance the concept of permaculture more than permaculture itself. I would argue the people working on that project have an acute understanding and appreciation of nature, and their project utilizes nature beautifully, endowing the tree with a resiliency trait that replicates other forster trees and other plants. While the ge chestnut has only one added gene, the parallel project to introduce resilient genetics by crossing with the Asian chestnut counterpart still, after 3 generations of backcrossing has over 2500 genetic sequences foreign to the American chestnut which evolved in an Asian environment to be released into the environment of North America. In this case at least, genetic engineering has arrived at a result well in line with our sociological principles that would be difficult to achieve with other, “non-gmo” methods.

                    • WeGotta

                      You believe what you want to believe and I’ll do the same.

                      I am trying to live my life according to my own principles.
                      These include peace, compassion, hard work, independence and striving to live the “examined life”.
                      That’s my starting point.

                      So when I make decisions, take action or choose a tool to use, I do so based upon my beliefs.

                      When I am evaluating a situation or problem, I want to make sure I understand it completely. I want to make sure I know all about it, including the underlying conditions that produced the situation.
                      I FIRST ask myself whether or not I could change rather than making the situation change.
                      If some change is needed, then I will choose the simplest method possible to affect the change I want to see. I will ALWAYS opt for the simplest, least expensive, least harmful, most available tools FIRST. Even better when a solution also solves other problems or when the thing that is needed is abundant and free.

                      With me so far? Any fallacies or “unscientific” principles?

                      We have no real stated goals or guiding principles in the US. Those few that exist are ignored. Just a bunch of lip service.

                      What would be the guiding principles for scientific advancement or food production for a wise society?
                      It would be great if we figured that out first, before we decide methods and tools. But we don’t. It’s basically a free for all and those things, like most others, are more and more being left up to the profit seekers.
                      This doesn’t make me angry or scared. It’s just the situation that exists.

                      I really don’t know where people get off trying to tell me that we are “advanced”, “modern”, or “smart” when it comes to how we produce our food.
                      By what measure can you make this claim?
                      Is it “scientific” to have our food systems controlled by structures that have, as their first and primary goal, the return on investment for a small number of businesses?
                      Seriously, is that a situation that can be described as best, smart or based on science?

                      I also don’t know how someone can try and claim that other people “need” to believe something, choose something or act a certain way “because of science”. I guarantee that the person making that claim IS NOT basing their life and choices on science.

                      From now on, only those people who are living their life strictly according to the best available science should bother trying to tell me what I should be doing.
                      Diet, exercise, no texting/phone calls while driving, meditating daily, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting a full night sleep every night, putting the time and energy into their relationships, spending money wisely, etc, etc.

                    • I’m not sure I understand the distinction you’re making. What’s the difference between a scientist applying a chemical that causes changes in a plant’s DNA vs a scientist adding a bacteria that causes changes in a plant’s DNA vs a scientist adding a protein that causes changes in a plant’s DNA?

                    • WeGotta

                      The former changes are confined to the original plants DNA and the latter allow for mixing of different plants and/or mixing of plants and animals.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      Like mixing of agrobacterium genes in, say, sweet potatoes?

                    • WeGotta

                      Maybe. But only if it was modern and in a lab like how Monsanto defines it.

                    • Thomas Baldwin

                      Monsanto doesn’t own genetic engineering and it doesn’t regulate it

                    • But that’s not accurate. The addition of a protein that causes changes in a plant’s DNA (CRISPR) just changes the plant’s “original DNA”.

                      I understand where you’re coming from. Based on your comments, I gather that you’re frustrated with the undue role of industry in our political and social systems, with the blatant corruption that exists in society, particularly when corporations can get away with so much. That we should leave things alone and we don’t need to “tinker” with things that nature has given us, particularly when the “tinkering” is done by corporations that few trust.

                      Here’s my perspective: we have societal challenges that we’ll be facing in the next few decades: global warming and population growth. Both of these bring with them additional challenges that will impact agriculture even further: more plant borne illnesses, more land dedicated to homes/roads/industry, deepening droughts, etc. As we confront these problems in agriculture, we need every tool at our disposal.

                      You’re trying to draw lines based on technologies when the lines are incredibly blurry since the end result can be the same. In trying to draw these lines, you may eliminate a powerful, precise, and efficient tool that we may need down the road to help us face these challenges.

                      You claim that we should have access to an economical, healthy, and safe food supply. But what it in the process of trying to achieve that goal you eliminate a tool that could have actually helped you achieve it? Take for example citrus greening: if we don’t find a solution for it in the next few years, our citrus industry may get decimated. There’s quite possibly a genetic modification that could address citrus greening. Should we remove the solution from the table just because of the way the modification was introduced?

                    • WeGotta

                      Let me just say that this comment of yours is like balm to my eyes.

                      It’s rare that people on such sites can give the simple courtesy of acknowledging the obvious problems we face. If scientists want to connect with the public they should start with some common ground. Maybe even review the science of conflict resolution and human interaction.
                      I’m dead serious because some have no idea how to talk to people.
                      The last thing people want to hear is that they are doing something wrong or that they are stupid. Regardless if they are either.

                      We all basically want the same things I think.
                      We all have the same obstacles in our way I also think. Like those you mentioned.

                      I honestly don’t have a problem with GMO being used if it’s used wisely. I don’t like it, but that’s just an emotional response based on my perspective.
                      In other words, I would never count it out. That would be foolish when we are faced with the problems you aptly pointed out.

                      How many scientists are frustrated with the system? Probably the same as for doctors, lawyers, teachers and most people.
                      Is it possible to change things from within or do we need new systems?

                      What would a perfect system of science education and advancement look like if as created by scientists?
                      What stands in your way?

                      Maybe I waste too much time thinking about such things.

                      Thanks again though.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      “If scientists want to connect with the public they should start with some common ground.”

                      No it’s not the obligation of scientists to provide hand-holding services to people like you that don’t understand science.

                      The job of scientists is to advance their knowledge to people who can take their work and run with it.

                      If you get left behind in the process, too bad.

                    • Gee you are boring. You seem to spend most of your waking hours trolling science sites with your ill educated tripe. Did you even finish high school?

                    • 4,613 comments since July 6, 2015. Maybe you waste too much of everybody’s time.

                    • WeGotta

                      And yet…..
                      you are reading and replying to my comments and looking up my stats.

                      Maybe I’m so boring I’m interesting?

                    • Mahaa

                      This civil exchange is great and a credit to how this site is run. I agree with you that scientists must communicate better with the public. At the same time, the public has a responsibility too. A responsibility to consult and trust real scientists and experts who can open their minds to peer-reviewed literature. Like the author of this article who explains so clearly why inter-specific gene transfer between evolutionarily distant species is not unnatural, and thus is not an argument to support an anti-GMO point of view. Communication is a 2-way street!

                    • JoeFarmer

                      And there is your personal bugaboo! The naturalistic fallacy!

                      You don’t understand what genes are or what they do.

                      The fact that your science education is embarrassingly lacking is no one’s problem other than yours.

                    • hyperzombie

                      There is no such thing as a plant or animal gene or DNA, mother nature doesn’t give a crap, why should we? Plant and animal are just human constructs. Nature does not care.

                • Needham’s M. Garden

                  Perhaps you would prefer that your medicine and pharmaceuticals be prepared in an outhouse than a laboratory? This opposition to plant breeding in a lab really doesn’t hold water. It is just a little bit hypocritical.

                  • WeGotta

                    An outhouse? That’s an extreme and nonsensical conclusion.
                    Where did I ever say anything about medicine?

                    There would be way less need for medicines if people ate less processed junk food. Don’t you think?

                    I read that pharmaceutical companies are getting into the GMO seed business now. Then they can control the food that makes us sick and the drugs that sort of make us better. What could be more American?

        • I wouldnt be so sure that humans were not involved in creation of transgenic sweet potatoes. Seems that all cultural varieties contain the same transgenic event, apparently the prehistoric farmers knowingly or unknowingly selected the transgenic plants. So humans clearly were involved.

          • WeGotta

            So I guess we can nullify all patents involving horizontal gene transfer then.

            • Well the patent on using agro to transfer genes to plants has expired in most jurisdictions already. It would have been interesting if the T-DNA in sweet potato discovery was mande few years ago, whether it could have been used as a prior art. I am not a lawyer, but I think that you can patent method or even a substantial improvement over existing method. So even though the result is the same, the method might be patented.

              • WeGotta

                I think all patents on life should be voided.

                • OK, so you are against breeders rights. You have right to such opinion. But since breeding is not only time consuming, but also rather expensive, you should also propose a way how to make breeding sustainable when the breeders would not be able to charge anything for their effort.

                  • WeGotta

                    I don’t think banning patents equates to being against breeders rights. They can breed all they want. I definitely don’t want people out there only looking for a paycheck from this.

                    Do you think anything in the universe is worthy of some protection from market forces?

                    • May be I misunderstood. We do not have patents on plant varieties here in the EU, but we have extensive breeders rights which serve the same purpose as patents in the US. The basic idea behind these legal constructs is to get some of the costs back (in the case of breeders in public instititions) or to even make a profit in the case of companies. It is really very difficult to do full time job without a paycheck. So what part of the breeders rights you agree with and what you disagree? And sure there are plenty of things that deserve some protection from market forces. Education and health being prime examples.

                    • WeGotta

                      Honestly, I’ve never heard the concept of “breeders rights”. I’m not sure any should exist other than those rights afforded to all humans.
                      They have a right to breed plants and animals like all humans. I don’t think anyone should be guaranteed a right to make money off of something.

                      Maybe such things should be directed by the public. We could ask everyone what they think is the major problem of the day and design some goals and rules for solving them using all resources at hand. Funding for various research can be made available for those things most needed. But of course this requires a working government, something we don’t have at the moment.

                    • Well most of the breeding is actually done by public institutions, there are just few crops that are profitable enough to support private effort. Prior to the introduction of GM-traits it was basically just corn and marginally few other hybrid or speciality crops. I believe that the system where both private for-profit companies and public institutions complement each other works fine. I am not saying that it cannot be better, but given the neglect of of governments all over the world for plant breeding and agricultural research in general, I dont see much space for improvement. Certainly not from cutting the hand which feeds the whole system. For plant breeders rights see also
                      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_breeders%27_rights

                    • WeGotta

                      Sorry, but I personally don’t see the need for such protections.
                      I think they cause more harm than they help people.

                      Farming should be more regional and should include thousands of different plants and animals.
                      Many thousands of edible plants already exist.

                      It seems to me that the plants that are most appropriate for mass production are not the best for our taste buds or health.

                    • http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ this is the scale of the problem.

                    • WeGotta

                      Ya, I get that.
                      But how is growing junk food helping?
                      How does financial speculation with commodities help?
                      How does it help to grow food in ways that require so much oil and transportation all over the world?

                      Why not cover our green spaces with edible plants? Why not use more perennial crops like hazelnut and chestnut instead of corn and soy? Why not address the wastes of so much processing and packaging of food?

                      I think advanced techniques for plant breeding are only a small part of the solution.

                      It makes more sense to have many more smaller farms closer to people and incorporated into other systems such as green recycling, water treatment center, raw material sources for building, economic hubs, and wildlife habitats.
                      To me at least.

                    • Eric Bjerregaard

                      Months ago I clearly explained that farmers do not grow junk food and have no right to control what happens to crops after they are sold. Yet here you are making the same comment. Are ye completely daft?

                    • I get that too, but given the long list of things which might need some fix in modern society , i dont see how it can be impacted in any way by changes in breeding methods. Is junk food grown in fields or processed from Basic ingredients? Is there a country or region where the systém of smaller farms and local production is actually working? Does it mean that more people will be needed to produce the food for others? I am not against that beautiful Utopia, but i am afraid that it is just not realistic. From my own experience i know that the less i know about a particular problém, the easier the solution appears. But simple solutions to complex problems rarely work.

                    • kfunk937

                      This is entirely off-topic, but one of my friends with whom I worked in the 80’s was from Prague. He gave me an appreciation of your city (and loved his country, even though he’d fled). He taught me some Czech, including a greeting that I can only write out in a borked orthographic way (with, as it happens, no training nor talent. Which is another reason to give you props for you multilinguilism). So I’ve been dying to ask you how to spell, in Czech, what sounds like (if you meld latin vowells with some other stuff), “Yak xe masz,” meaning “How are you doing?” Forgive me. I’ve fallen out of touch with my Czech friend.

                    • kfunk937

                      By the way, I’dve never gotten beyond shyness to ask you, had I not admired so much what and how you say what it is that you do that is so factual, specific and brings the entire conversation beyond the entirely political/emotional bubble, in particular, of the US.. I could hope to do as well.

                      I also admire your patience.

                    • Thanks you. I always thought that being experimentální biologie is a great training of someones patience , but thats nothing against raising Two small kids. The kids reallyy know how to push my patience to its limits.☺

                    • Interesting, world is so small. Proper form would be “Jak se máš?” or “Jak se máte?” whis is more formal way. In our language we have two forms of “you”, one is used as singular and the other as either plural or for addressing superiors or strangers, which is refletected in máš/máte. I have a friend from Venezuela and she noticed one important cultural difference. While the questions “How are you doing?” is usually used as a greeting among Americans, the same question for a regular Czech is an invitation to start a long litany of complaints. We as a nation love to complain. Of course people who live in the US for longer time loose this cultural “trait” rather fast.:)

                    • kfunk937

                      Wow, so glad you saw this!

                      It’s much the same in Czech apparently that it is in Spanish and similar tongues, although it’s not a latin language. At least when it comes to some feminine and masculine forms (a woman’s surname, single and when married, versus a man’s surname), familiar and general/formal, and so much more. It’s entrancing. What my problem was when I began to pick up Czech, already multilingual (limping, nonetheless), was that I couldn’t wrap my tongue around something I might have been able to do readily had I’d only been a few years younger. Sigh. I wish I still had the opportunity to try.

                      Thank you so much for giving me the spelling. Now I shall be able to talk to some new friends on Facebook (where initially I only went to “spy” on my younger relatives, after a younger cousin was in Japan in ground zero for the tsunami).

                      As to the “How are you doing?” By me it appears to be a key part of the social contract. Around the world, this varies quite a bit. In some areas, the customary greeting is more like, “Have you eaten yet, today?” I love that. And I’m not sure that that is no more insignificant that “How are you?” is in the US. But it can be very ritualised, going on through several generations of “How are your children?” and “Are your fields well?” and I have no idea whether the multiple layers of that are any more meaningful (or not) than our empty “How are you?” greetings are. I would hope so, that they would be more meaingful, but suspect that that is buying into the Noble Savage fallacy.

                      Still, it’s a great view from this side of the grass.

                    • Jason

                      Here is the need in a brief summarization. Few people have the expertise, skill, access to broad genetics and resources to breed thousands of new varieties and test them all searching for the few that are improvements in the ones people currently use. If there were no protections, allowing them to recoup their investment in developing these better varieties, then what possible incentive would they have to do it?

                    • WeGotta

                      Who says we need thousands of new plant varieties?

                      I’ve never seen that on a list of our biggest problems.
                      There are already thousands and thousands of varieties of plants now.
                      Why is science mostly being done for profit rather than for the good of all people?

                    • Jason

                      Who says we need thousands of new plant varieties?

                      No one. We certainly don’t need “thousands of new plant varieties”. But if you are to find the few that are genuine improvements over what we have already, then you need to develop and test thousands. It’s like finding that proverbial needle in the haystack.

                      Why is science mostly being done for profit rather than for the good of all people?

                      Why do you feel that these two things are necessarily at odds?

                    • WeGotta

                      I don’t think they are at odds. Good or bad can come from either or both.

                      It’s only relevant when someone gives a point of reference.
                      In this case, the point of reference is the assertion that GM techniques for plant breeding are needed or that scientists working on such things are doing so for the benefit of the public.

                      When someone makes that claim, it’s fair game to point out how science currently does not really work for the public as much as it does for money.

                      But, if scientists do work just for a paycheck that’s perfectly okay by me. That’s what most people do.
                      Just don’t try and pretend otherwise or get bent out of shape when other people don’t support it.

                    • Jason

                      I think the assertion was that “breeders rights” were not needed. So I summarized why they are, in fact, needed. Or at the very least, beneficial.

                    • WeGotta

                      Fair enough.
                      I disagree but I haven’t given it much thought.

                      Most people who earn their living from some industry want protections for that industry. But there’s a real risk that such protections will inhibit innovation or create other problems such as entrenched special interests.
                      Examples abound. One of the most extreme is the oil and gas industry.

                      How much have they stymied innovation? How might things be different now if they hadn’t had all that money to spend influencing world governments, manufacturing, transportation systems and environmental protections?

                      I personally would rather a government set up the conditions so that all citizens had their basic needs met. Food, shelter, clean air and water, defense and health care using systems based on the best science available. Profit or industry protection should be secondary to that primary goal.

                      All else is fair game for free markets and will be more successful built upon a solid foundation.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      “… but I haven’t given it much thought.”

                      That and the fact that you have no science chops.

                      Exactly what useful function do you perform for society at large?

                    • hyperzombie

                      Exactly what useful function do you perform for society at large?”

                      Mobile hat rack?

                    • Moderator here – Joe, personal insults are not welcome here. Read our comment policy and refrain from personal insults or you will be banned. I understand that discussions can get frustrating, but we strive to have a welcoming environment for everyone.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      Fine. Your playground, your rules. Hopefully you’ll treat ideologically-driven posts the same way.

                      Time will tell, I guess.

                    • Miri

                      While I understand this debate seems like it’s about GMO, what becomes apparent is the underlying issues are what dictates the levels of passion people have for their positions. Feeding the world in a post fossil fuel economy being most relevant. It seems to me this link is a good starting point for how we can move forward together.
                      http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2009/ostrom-lecture.html

                    • WeGotta

                      The underlying principles behind positions are what’s most interesting to me.
                      What are our principles? We talk about things like freedom, equality, independence and wisdom but very little of our actions on a national level come close to alignment with those principles.
                      We argue about details instead of trying to find common ground.

                    • JoeFarmer

                      You sound like someone who’s fat, dumb and happy with an internet connection that’s never accomplished anything useful.

                      Congrats, thanks to the American Farmer you have the opportunity to spew all over the internet!

                    • Chris Preston

                      Who says we need thousands of new plant varieties?

                      Improvements in disease resistance, improvements in yield, changes in vegetative period to suit different environments, changes in quality traits for different end uses are the main ones. However, there are other reasons for wanting new cultivars of crops to improve productivity or deal with abiotic and biotic stresses. Cultivars of wheat might have a commercial life of a decade before they are outclassed, usually due to loss of disease resistance.

                      If you have 8 different environments based on growing season, two different end uses for the product, 3 different subsoil constraints, 5 different leaf diseases and 4 different root diseases present in the growing region then there might be a need for more than 60 cultivars to provide growers in each situation with a cultivar that is suitable.

  • relO627

    Does any country that label gmos label the sweet potato as “gmo”?

    • To the best of my knowledge, no country labels the sweet potato as a GMO.

      • relO627

        Thanks.

  • Sterling Ericsson

    I should jump in to point out also how impossible it is to actually define what “GMO” means anyways. See the following:

    http://grist.org/food/mind-bomb-its-practically-impossible-to-define-gmos/

    Now, if it was constrained to just mean transgenesis events, that would be one thing, but “anti-GMO” activists seem to basically want it to mean “all the techniques that we weren’t already using and thus are competition to us”, which is why they exempt hybridization (even interspecies hybridization via mutagenic chemicals), radioactive mutagenesis, and protoplast fusion (in most cases).

    And of course things like cheese or whatnot where part is produced from modified E. coli, as banning that would dramatically hurt their bottom line.

    Honestly, for the “anti-GMO” groups, which are often organic groups as well, all of their actions really come down to attacking their competition and promoting their own crops, often in a pseudoscientific way. Have you all seen the March Against Monsanto page promoting chemtrails? Or the Organic Consumer’s Association promoting anti-vaccine views? I made sure to screenshot them when they do it, because their anti-science nonsense is funny to share around.

    • Companion

      One of the things that outrages me about the anti-GMO crowd is that I’m sure there is some overlap between them and those that want all kinds of genetic modifications to human genes. While I am resolutely for the former, the latter does have more far-reaching moral implications (IMO) than simply increasing the nutrient value, pest resistance, or crop yield associated with the former.

  • The problem is not the technology, but what we use it for. Genetic
    modification is just a faster way of doing what humans have been doing
    since food production was invented. All our crops are very different
    from the original wild species they are descended from, but this process
    took a long time. So the modification was not the result of the short
    term interest of a company but rather the long term needs of a
    civilization.

    • Couldn’t you make the same argument about many modern crops that weren’t made with genetic engineering? Pluots? Clearfield crops? Aren’t these developed and patented by companies, too?

      • Ewan R

        Absolutely you could.

        Modern breeding currently works faster than GM technology (predominantly due to regulatory burden rather than anything intrinsic)

        Corn breeders, for instance, had to respond in the last decade to the widespread emergence and spread of a disease called Goss’ Wilt.

        Within 5 years resistance had been bred into most newly deployed hybrids.

        The same approach using transgenics would still be in testing, and would likely hit the market some time in the next 3-5 years.

        In the meantime breeding has gone from seeing this as an immediate research need to a problem that has been solved and essentially needs to be managed.

        The idea that breeding is slow or only focuses on long term needs is simply incorrect.

        No neolithic farmer ever saved seeds from the most productive plant so that in 200 years it would be somewhat more like corn than teosinte. They saved the most productive so that next year they would have the most productive. Then they did it again, and again, and again. Short term needs being met at every turn. If they sacrificed the short term for a greater long term they’d have gone without a crop and risked starvation.