Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Messing With Plant Genes: the Fourth Way.

If we're counting, there were three ways for humans to mess with plant genes:
  1. the time-honored method of selective breeding, picking the good ones from a crop and reproducing them.  The only way approved of by all.
  2. direct genetic manipulation in the laboratory, inserting a gene from one species into the germplasm of another species.  This is called GMO, and it is considered bad by many, particularly in Europe, because it creates "unnatural" combinations of genes.  Many believe people must be given the information that they're eating/using such plants.
  3. direct genetic manipulation in the laboratory, using CRISPR to remove genetic material from  germplasm.  Not sure that people have made up their minds about this.
Even before we make up our minds about CRISPR, scientists have come up with another way to mess with genes, using "RNA interference".The appeal is that it offers control over genes without modifying a plant’s genome—that is, without creating a GMO. From the piece:
That means sprays might sidestep much of the controversy around agricultural biotechnology. Or so companies hope. What’s certain is that a way to accomplish the goals of genetic engineering without having to develop a GMO could bring commercial rewards. Sprays might be quickly tailored to do battle with an insect infestation or a new type of virus. Not only could this be faster than creating new GM crops, but the gene-silencing effects of RNA interference last only a few days or weeks. That means you might spray on traits such as drought resistance in times of water shortage without affecting the plant’s performance in times of normal rainfall.
I know I don't understand this but the bottom line to me seems to be that the scientists are advancing faster than society is making rules. It's hard to see how those who object to GMO's (no. 2) could object to this.

[Update: Grist weighs in on RNA interference.  Suggests that Monsanto follow Google and change its name.]

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