Ancestral Genetic Resources Provide an Alternative to GMO Crops

Mary W. Eubanks

Abstract


Concern about the effects of pesticides on human health
and the environment, has been a major rationale for pro-
moting  transgenic crops, often  referred  to as genetically
modified organisms (GMOs), or as genetically  enhanced
(GE) crops.   Companies  that sell genetically engineered
crop plants claim that biotechnology offers a safe alterna-
tive to agricultural chemicals and is  necessary to feed the
world’s expanding human population. However, there are
still many unknowns about the safety of GMOs for human
health and the  environment, and virtually nothing is known
about  how  the  genomes  of  organisms may  be  affected
by horizontal transfer of alien genes into plants, animals,
and even humans. An alternative approach  to  transgen-
ic  technology  is  the exploitation of beneficial genes  from
wild  relatives of crop plants using conventional breeding
methods. This paper describes how genetic engineering  
differs  from conventional plant breeding,  then compares
and  contrasts benefits  from  transgenic engineering with
traditional methods of crop  improvement. An example of
how the ancestral genes model has been employed to im-
part an insect resistance trait to corn based on native re-
sistance  from  a wild  relative  is  compared  to  transgenic
corn with  resistance  to  the same  insect engineered with  
a transgene from a bacterium. Using the ancestral genes
approach, harmful chemicals used to control the worst in-
sect pest of corn can be eliminated with no  consequenc-
es to human health or the environment; whereas with the
transgenic approach,  there are many safety concerns  in
both arenas.

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