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Hi Doug

If you browse through my posts you'll see various rants on GE foods.

But I'll answer your question now as well:)

Yes humans have been eating genetically modified foods since around 10000BC which is roughly when homo sapiens started selected specific grains that produced higher yields and planted them together. The net result of course was the crosses that led to wheat rice oats and when the native Americans made it to north america maize.

More recently, in the 1700 and 1800s it was quite fashionable to create hybrids between more distantly related species and many of those hybrids were food crops.

Entering the 20th century there was a thriving science based on breeding of unusual crops and selection and hybrisation to obtain interesting and valuable food crops.

It's worth noting that all that breeding involved the transfer of plant species from distant continents and their growth in totally new environments. Nowadays that ould be called environmental pollution.

By the mid 20th century plant breeding was no longer a trivial pursuit. Simply put, peoples lives depended on the production of new and better crops with disease resitance and higher yields. This pressure led to the application of every possible method of altering the genome of crop plants that could be imagined. In vitro culture in the presence of hormones to increase ploidy levels (ploidy is simply the number of copies of the genome that you have, humans have 2n and are diploid, many crops are now triploid, hexaploid, octaploid, which for some unexplained reason tends to increase yield). Random mutagenisis by chemical mutagens or irradiation followed by selection to generate new disease resistances which are then bred back into the parental lines. Crosses betwen species that normally cannot produce viable progeny followed by embryo rescue in the petri dish.

What all of the above methods have in common is they randomly mix up large chunks of the chromosomes or blend together different chromosomes from different species (eg tangerine). The results of such breeding were checked for yield taste and disease resistance and if improved, found their way quickly into the food chain with almost no oversight. And there were problems, yes some crops caused allergic reactions in some people and some of the results of classical breeding even turned to be toxic, the moral being nature isn't always friendly.

When genetic engineering became possible it was trivial for breeders to accept because it was just a more precise way of adding new genes. The only real complaints were that the molecular biologists involved insisted on a very thorough examination of the results of such engineering just in case anything wierd/interesting happened and that it was too slow. Nothing wierd has happened. Someday something wierd will happen, it always does, but we think that we've got enough assessment in place to know as early as is possible and to be able to prevent any harm. Of course biology can always surprise. Of course even the best intentions and safeguards can fail and yes we make mistakes, but we do learn from mistakes and mistakes made 30 years ago aren't repeated, that's what the regulatory system is all about.

BTW the oft heard complaint that unlike "natural breeding" GE can transfer genes that would never be transferred, eg animal to plant may well prove to be groundless anyway. There is increasing evidence from genomics that genes can be transferred by viruses and bacteria across kingdom barriers. Who'da thunk it!

Personally I'd like to see GE foods labelled so the well fed middle class protestors can make the choice (everyone should be allowed to choose). But IMO preventing GE crops being developed that reduce pesticide and herbicide contamination of the environment and that provide improved nutrition for the 5 billion humans that are basically hungry, is simply evil.

Well there ya have it, another rant, sorry folks, but I believe it's important to try and educate about GE so everytime someone asks I'll answer in full.


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