You’ve probably heard of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. It’s a revolutionary technology that’s been a fascinating topic of conversation in the worlds of science, agriculture and nutrition.
You may not, however, be as familiar with GECs, or genome-edited crops. These crops are the product of a newer technology that’s showing promise for feeding the world’s growing population in these challenging times of ever more unpredictable weather.
Both GMOs and GECs are the result of genetic modification.
But There Is An Important Distinction Between Them
GMOs are most commonly plants - though there is some incidence of animals too - whose DNA is modified to include genes from other organisms. By introducing these foreign genes, the plant or animal is able to produce a desired trait, such as being pesticide or disease resistant.
GECs are created through more of a biological find-and-replace function. In other words, gene-editing tools such as the CRISPR/Cas9, are used to cut out “bad” mutations that happened in the organism’s genome itself. This action is done within the cell and involves no creation of a new generation or a lineage of it. As with GMOs, they’ve proven effective in creating more desirous traits. They’re even being used to develop potential treatments for genetic diseases.
So the main difference is that GMOs are generated through the introduction of foreign DNA sequences, while GECs are the product of precise editing of an organism's native genome. If it all sounds right out of the space age, consider this:
Genetic Modification Has Been Going on for Thousands of Years
To some extent, at least. Just take a look at one of the greatest examples of selective breeding in North America - sweet corn.
Sweet corn was bred from teosinte; a dry and barely edible plant. The first domesticated corn came on the scene in 7,000 BC and was dry and mealy like raw potato. By the 15th century, European settlers had begun to cultivate corn using selective breeding techniques. Today, modern corn is 1,000 times larger than it was 9,000 years ago. It’s far easier to peel and grow, and its sugar content is three times that of natural corn.
So with that in mind, using genome editing to create GECs is considered by many as a simply more efficient and precise method of genetic manipulation than the conventional breeding methods we’ve used for thousands of years. It’s an acceleration of the natural process.
GMOs just take it to another level by introducing DNA from other organisms.
It’s not an argument of whether one is better than the other. And there is always going to be controversy around new technologies. Especially when they involve food. But the intentions behind both - healthier crops with higher yields - are positive.
So we’ll see what happens next.
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