The image above illustrates the type of propaganda that is commonly shared on the Internet about GMOs.  Images like those are often shared without the “sharer” taking the time to understand what “genetically modified” actually means and without realizing that they likely already depend on the many of the benefits of genetic modification.

Some of the benefits of genetic modification include resistance to disease, pests, weeds, or drought.  Some modifications produce higher yield to create more efficient use of land and less use of herbicides and pesticides.  Others improve taste, texture, flavor, nutritional value, appearance.

Here’s how crops are genetically modified

How crops are genetically modified
Source: Genetic Literacy Project

 

Traditional breeding involves crossing plants and selecting favorable offspring.  Many thousands of genes may be affected during the process.  Desired gene(s) are inserted with other genetic material.  There are no safety testing requirements.

Mutagenesis sounds awesome and from an X-Men movie, but it’s really just exposing the seeds to chemicals or radiation to increase the mutation rate in hopes of discovering favorable traits.  This leads to random changes in the genome and is usually unpredictable.  There’s no way to assess how many genes are affected.  Again, no safety testing is required.

RNA Interference involves switching particular genes on or off using RNA.  This process is highly targeted, and only one or two genes are typically silenced at a time.  Safety testing is required.

Transgenics involves the insertion of selected genes using recombinant DNA methods (like in Jurassic Park… but not really).  Typically, one to four genes are affected, and they are inserted at known locations.  Safety testing is required for this method.

Anti-GMO groups often take issue with the methods of transgenics and RNA interference, but here’s the thing:

Traditional breeding – which has been used for centuries in the domestication of plants and animals affects almost all crops and almost all domesticated animals – affects thousands of genes at a time, and requires no testing surrounds us in our every day lives.  We depend on it.  This is genetic modification.

 

So if you are strictly opposed to genetic modification, you should be opposed to eating many of the fruits and vegetables we have today.

Need a reminder?  Here’s what a few vegetables looked like before domestication (AKA:  before genetic modification):

 

This is wild carrot, before humans domesticated it.

Wild carrot before it was domesticated
Wild carrot before it was domesticated. Source: Genetic Literacy Program

 

Modern Carrot
Modern Carrot

 

This stubby hole-filled thing… is wild banana, prior to domestication.

wild banana
Source: Genetic Literacy Project. Wild banana, before domestication.

 

And what about those yellow things that look like tomatoes, but aren’t?  That’s wild eggplant.  Not. Even. Close.

Wild Eggplant
Source: Genetic Literacy Project – Wild Eggplant

Modern eggplant looks entirely different:

Modern Eggplant

 

Hint:  This tasted like raw potato and was bred from the barely edible teosinte plant.  It’s natural corn, and is nothing like it’s modern day (delicious) cousin.

wild corn
Natural (Wild) Corn. Source: Genetic Literacy Project

Here’s some delicious peaches-and-cream corn.

Modern Corn

 

And last, we have natural watermelon, which is full of the white stuff that’s usually tossed aside.

wild watermelon
Natural (wild) Watermelon. Source: Alvaro/Wikimedia Commons

Modern watermelon – only full of the good stuff, minus the seeds.

Modern Watermelon

 

To learn more, visit Science Alert – they’ve got a few more examples and go into more detail for each of the wild/modern version of the plants.  You can also visit an earlier article posted on Relatively Interesting about GMOs.

 

  • Mark_42

    GMOs tend not to worry me, but wasn’t there a strain of corn with a spliced-in pesticide that was killing the insects that pollinated it? I recall hearing something about this a decade or so ago. Might have been anti-GMO propaganda.

    • Tori Brooks

      That’s systemic pesticides and they’re still being used in crops. Yes, they kill the bees. Not immediately, which is why the companies (Bayer) that make them can say it’s safe. The bees take pollen back to the hive, and they don’t eat it until months later. By then the tests for safety are over. Or they feed it to the developing bees in the nursery and those bees are affected, again by the time you see it, the test is over. Systemic pesticides are slowly being banned across Europe in different crops. France won’t allow them in sunflowers for example.

      • Mark_42

        But they’re not being phased out in the US? Can that be the cause of the massive bee die-offs we’ve seen in recent years?

        • If there was any kind of a link at all to systempic pesticides and bees, the anti-GMO crowd would be screaming to high heaven over it. They do regularly claim “GMOs kill bees,” but the most controversial area that *might* be a contributing factor — and after massive testing, the results still aren’t conclusive — is neonicotinoid in pesticides. This is different from the systemic pesticides produced in GMO crops, and they corn does not produce these internally.

  • You forgot the needles. If anti-GMO folks are to be believed, Monsanto hires people to inject each and every piece of fruit and every vegetable with gigantic syringes of Evil GMO Toxin. (It’s a scare tactic also used by anti-vaxxers to appeal to our innate fear of needles and injections.) For examples of this, do what the conspiracy theorists say and Just Google It, by doing a Google search for images with “GMO” plus “syringe.”