Genetic engineering techniques are much more precise than mutagenesis (mutation breeding) where an organism is exposed to radiation or chemicals to create a non-specific but stable change. Other techniques by which humans modify plants include selective breeding; plant breeding, and somaclonal variation.
In most cases the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in this species. Examples include resistance to certain pests, diseases or environmental conditions, or the production of a certain nutrient or pharmaceutical agent.
Critics have objected to GM crops per se on several grounds, including ecological concerns, and economic concerns raised by the fact these organisms are subject to intellectual property law. GM crops also are involved in controversies over GM food with respect to whether food produced from GM crops is safe and whether GM crops are needed to address the world's food needs.
Gene Transfer in Nature and Traditional Agriculture
The first commercialised genetically modified plants (Flavr Savr tomatoes) used RNAi technology, where the inserted DNA matched an endogenous gene already in the plant. When the inserted gene is expressed it can repress the translation of the endogenous protein. Host delivered RNAi systems are being developed, where the plant will express RNA that will interfere with insects, nematodes and other parasites' protein synthesis. This may provide a novel way of protecting plants from pests.
In the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports on the total area of GMO varieties planted. According to National Agricultural Statistics Service, the states published in these tables represent 81–86 percent of all corn planted area, 88–90 percent of all soybean planted area, and 81–93 percent of all upland cotton planted area (depending on the year).
USDA does not collect data for global area. Estimates are produced by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and can be found in the report, "Global Status of Commercialized Transgenic Crops: 2007".
Farmers have widely adopted GM technology (see figure). Between 1996 and 2011, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops had increased by a factor of 94, from 17,000 square kilometers (4,200,000 acres) to 1,600,000 km2 (395 million acres). 10% of the world's crop lands were planted with GM crops in 2010. As of 2011, 11 different transgenic crops were grown commercially on 395 million acres (160 million hectares) in 29 countries such as the USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, Australia, Philippines, Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Mexico and Spain. One of the key reasons for this widespread adoption is the perceived economic benefit the technology brings to farmers. For example, the system of planting glyphosate-resistant seed and then applying glyphosate once plants emerged provided farmers with the opportunity to dramatically increase the yield from a given plot of land, since this allowed them to plant rows closer together. Without it, farmers had to plant rows far enough apart to control post-emergent weeds with mechanical tillage. Likewise, using Bt seeds means that farmers do not have to purchase insecticides, and then invest time, fuel, and equipment in applying them. However critics have disputed whether yields are higher and whether chemical use is less, with GM crops. See Genetically modified food controversies article for information.
Extent of worldwide use of GM crops
|Country||2010– planted area (million hectares)||2009 – Agriculture area (million hectares) ||Percentage of agriculture area with GM crops||Biotech crops|
|USA||66.8||403||16.56%||Soybean, Maize, Cotton, Canola, Squash, Papaya, Alfalfa, Sugarbeet|
|Rest of the world||14.7||3,883||0.38%||----|
|Canada||8.8||68||13.02%||Maize, Soybean, Canola, Sugarbeet|
|Brazil||25.4||265||9.60%||Soybean, Maize, Cotton|
|Argentina||22.9||141||16.30%||Soybean, Maize, Cotton|
|GMO acreage world 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gmo_acreage_world_2009.PNG. GMO cultivation 2009 (millions of hectares; source: ISAAA). Caption: Land area used for genetically modified crops by country (1996–2009), in millions of hectares. In 2011, the land area used was 160 million hectares, or 1.6 million square kilometers. Author: Fafner http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Fafner. Other versions: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gmo_acreage_world_2008.PNG. Licensing: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en, 2.5 Generic http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/deed.en, 2.0 Generic http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en and 1.0 Generic http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0/deed.en license.|
Europe has relatively few genetically engineered crops with the exception of Spain where one fifth of maize grown is genetically engineered, and smaller amounts in five other countries. The EU had a 'de facto' ban on the approval of new GM crops, from 1999 until 2004; in a controversial move. GM crops are now regulated by the EU. Developing countries grew 50 percent of genetically engineered crops in 2011.
In recent years there has been rapid growth in the area sown in developing countries. A total of 29 countries worldwide grew GM crops in 2011 by approximately 16.7 million farmers and 50% of GM crops grown worldwide were grown in developing countries. For example, the largest increase in crop area planted to GM crops in 2011 was in Brazil (303,000 km2 versus 254,000 km2 in 2010). There has also been rapid and continuing expansion of GM cotton varieties in India since 2002 with 106,000 km2 of GM cotton harvested in India in 2011. However the use of GM crops in India has been controversial, as discussed in detail in the GM controversies article.
According to the 2011 ISAAA brief: "While 29 countries planted commercialized biotech crops in 2010, an additional 31 countries, totaling 60 have granted regulatory approvals for biotech crops for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment since 1996.... A total of 1,045 approvals have been granted for 196 events (NB: an "event" is a specific genetic modification in a specific species) for 25 crops. Thus, biotech crops are accepted for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment in 60 countries, including major food importing countries like Japan, which do not plant biotech crops. Of the 60 countries that have granted approvals for biotech crops, USA tops the list followed by Japan, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, the European Union, and Taiwan. Maize has the most events approved (65) followed by cotton (39), canola (15), potato and soybean (14 each). The event that has received regulatory approval in most countries is herbicide tolerant soybean event GTS-40-3-2 with 25 approvals (EU=27 counted as 1 approval only), followed by insect resistant maize MON810 with 23 approvals, herbicide tolerant maize NK603 with 22 approvals each, and insect resistant cotton (MON1445) with 14 approvals worldwide."
|Crop||Properties of the genetically modified variety||Modification||Percent modified in US||Percent modified in world|
|Alfalfa||Resistance to glyphosate or glufosinate herbicides||New genes added/transferred into plant genome.||Planted in the US from 2005–2007; 2007–2010 court injunction; 2011 deregulated|
|Canola/ Rapeseed||Resistance to herbicides (glyphosate or glufosinate), high laurate canola, Oleic acid canola||New genes added/transferred into plant genome||87% (2005 data)||21%|
|Corn, field (Maize)||Resistance to glyphosate or glufosinate herbicides. Insect resistance via producing Bt proteins, some previously used as pesticides in organic crop production. Added enzyme, alpha amylase, that converts starch into sugar to facilitate ethanol production.||New genes, some from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, added/transferred into plant genome.||86%||26%|
|Cotton (cottonseed oil)||Kills susceptible insect pests||gene for one or more Bt crystal proteins transferred into plant genome||93%||49%|
|Papaya (Hawaiian)||Resistance to the papaya ringspot virus.||New gene added/transferred into plant genome||80%|
|Potato||NewLeaf: Bt resistance against Colorado beetle and resistance against 2 viruses (removed from market in 2001); Amflora: resistance gene against an antibiotic, used for selection, in combination with modifications for better starch production||New Leaf: gene for one or more Bt crystal proteins transferred into plant genome; Amflora – antibiotic resistance gene from bacteria; modifications to endogenous starch-producing enzymes||unknown||unknown|
|Rice||Golden Rice: genetically modified to contain beta-carotene (a source of vitamin A)||Current version of Golden Rice under development contains genes from maize and a common soil microorganism. Previous prototype version contained three new genes: two from daffodils and the third from a bacterium||Forecast to be on the market in 2014 or 2015|
|Soybeans||Resistance to glyphosate or glufosinate herbicides; make less saturated fats; Kills susceptible insect pests||Herbicide resistant gene taken from bacteria inserted into soybean; knocked out native genes that catalyze saturation; gene for one or more Bt crystal proteins transferred into plant genome||93%||77%|
|Squash (Zucchini/Courgette)||Resistance to watermelon, cucumber and zucchini/courgette yellow mosaic viruses||Contains coat protein genes of viruses.||13% (figure is from 2005)|
|Sugar beet||Resistance to glyphosate, glufosinate herbicides||New genes added/transferred into plant genome||95% (2010); regulated 2011; deregulated 2012||9%|
|Sugarcane||Resistance to certain pesticides, high sucrose content.||New genes added/transferred into plant genome|
|Sweet peppers||Resistance to cucumber mosaic virus||Contains coat protein genes of the virus.||Small quantities grown in China|
|Tomatoes||Suppression of the enzyme polygalacturonase (PG), retarding fruit softening after harvesting.||A reverse copy (an antisense gene) of the gene responsible for the production of PG enzyme added into plant genome||Taken off the market due to commercial failure.||Small quantities grown in China|
|Wheat||Resistance to glyphosate herbicide||New genes added/transferred into plant genome||unknown||unknown|
Managing emergence of resistance
Constant exposure to a toxin creates evolutionary pressure for pests resistant to that toxin.
One method of reducing resistance is the creation of non-Bt crop refuges to allow some nonresistant insects to survive and maintain a susceptible population. To reduce the chance an insect would become resistant to a Bt crop, the commercialization of transgenic cotton and maize in 1996 was accompanied with a management strategy to prevent insects from becoming resistant to Bt crops, and insect resistance management plans are mandatory for Bt crops planted in the USA and other countries. The aim is to encourage a large population of pests so that any resistance genes that are recessive are greatly diluted within the population.
This means that with sufficiently high levels of transgene expression, nearly all of the heterozygotes (S/s), i.e., the largest segment of the pest population carrying a resistance allele, will be killed before they reach maturity, thus preventing transmission of the resistance gene to their progeny. The planting of refuges (i. e., fields of nontransgenic plants) adjacent to fields of transgenic plants increases the likelihood that homozygous resistant (s/s) individuals and any surviving heterozygotes will mate with susceptible (S/S) individuals from the refuge, instead of with other individuals carrying the resistance allele. As a result, the resistance gene frequency in the population would remain low.
Nevertheless, limitations can affect the success of the high-dose/refuge strategy. For example, expression of the Bt gene can vary. For instance, if the temperature is not ideal, this stress can lower the toxin production and make the plant more susceptible. More importantly, reduced late-season expression of toxin has been documented, possibly resulting from DNA methylation of the promoter. So, while the high-dose/refuge strategy has been successful at prolonging the durability of Bt crops, this success has also had much to do with key factors independent of management strategy, including low initial resistance allele frequencies, fitness costs associated with resistance, and the abundance of non-Bt host plants that have supplemented the refuges planted as part of the resistance management strategy.
Companies that produce Bt seed are addressing this as well, by introducing plants with multiple Bt proteins. Monsanto did this with Bt cotton in India, where the product was rapidly adopted.
Regulation of the Release of Genetic Modified Organisms
The regulation of genetic engineering concerns the approaches taken by governments to assess and manage the risks associated with the development and release of genetically modified crops. There are differences in the regulation of GM crops between countries, with some of the most marked differences occurring between the USA and Europe. Regulation varies in a given country depending on the intended use of the products of the genetic engineering. For example, a crop not intended for food use is generally not reviewed by authorities responsible for food safety.
Controversy: Genetically Modified Food Controversies
Critics have objected to GM crops per se on several grounds, including ecological concerns, and economic concerns raised by the fact these organisms are subject to intellectual property law. GM crops also are involved in controversies over GM food with respect to whether food produced from GM crops is safe and whether GM crops are needed to address the world's food needs. See the genetically modified food controversies article for discussion of issues about GM crops and GM food. These controversies have led to litigation, international trade disputes, and protests, and to restrictive legislation in most countries.
Roundup, An Herbicide, Could Be Linked To Parkinson's, Cancer And Other Health Issues, Study Shows [
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/25/roundup-herbicide-health-issues-disease_n_3156575.html] - Huffington Post.
Read the study here: study's abstract [http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416], complete study [http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416/pdf].
The Hidden Email the White House Hopes to Keep Under Wraps (March 6, 2012) [http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/03/06/monsantos-pesticides-and-gmo.aspx] - Mercola.com.
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