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Hybrid Seeds vs. GMOs

1/16/2013 12:17:00 PM

Tags: hybrid seeds, GMOs, genetically modified organisms, hybrids, GM vegetable varieties, GM contamination

What’s the difference between hybrids and genetically modified (GM) vegetable varieties? plants in a laboratory 

The term “hybrid,” which you’ll often see in seed catalogs, refers to a plant variety developed through a specific, controlled cross of two parent plants. Usually, the parents are naturally compatible varieties within the same species. This hybridization, or the crossing of compatible varieties, happens naturally in the wild; plant breeders basically just steer the process to control the outcome. In contrast, GM varieties (sometimes called “genetically modified organisms,” or “GMOs”) are a whole different animal, as we’ll explain in a bit. First, some background on plant hybridization.

Humans have been cultivating new plant varieties since the beginning of agricultural development, but until fairly recently, the process required patience. Developing a non-hybrid, open-pollinated (OP) variety using classic plant-breeding methods takes six to 10 generations, says John Navazio, a plant breeder and senior scientist for the Organic Seed Alliance in Port Townsend, Wash. (Most heirloom varieties are open-pollinated.)

Modern hybridization speeds up that process considerably. Using a method of controlled crossing devised by Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel in the mid-19th century, plant breeders can now produce seed that combines the desired traits of two pure parent lines in the first generation. This creates a new variety known as an “F1 hybrid.” To create F1 seed, seed companies grow two parent lines in the field each year, designate the male and female parents, carry out pollination under controlled conditions — such as hand-pollination under row cover — and then harvest seed from the females.
“Plant breeders like F1 seed because it’s faster and easier than breeding new open-pollinated varieties,” Navazio says. “You can cull the bad traits from the parents while stacking their good traits in the F1 offspring.” For gardeners, hybrids sometimes provide advantages compared with OP varieties, such as better disease resistance. Big seed companies also like F1 hybrids because the process gives them proprietary ownership of each new variety. And because seed from F1 plants won’t produce uniform offspring, gardeners must buy new seeds each year.

Unlike hybrids, which are developed in the field using natural, low-tech methods, GM varieties are created in a lab using highly complex technology, such as gene splicing. These high-tech GM varieties can include genes from several species — a phenomenon that almost never occurs in nature. “With GM varieties, genes are transferred from one kingdom to another, such as bacteria to plants,” Navazio says. A corn variety developed by Monsanto, for instance, includes genetic material from the bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills European corn borers. So far, only commodity crops with GM traits — such as corn, soy, alfalfa and sugar beets — have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for use, primarily in processed foods and animal feeds. The exception is GM sweet corn, which is now available at your grocery store. (For more on foods in your grocery store that contain GM ingredients, see How to Avoid Genetically Modified Food.)

The trouble is that nobody knows how these unnatural new organisms will behave over time. The seed companies that develop these varieties claim intellectual property rights so that only they can create and sell the variety. In some cases, companies — such as Monsanto — even refuse to allow scientists to obtain and study their GM seeds. For some crops, such as corn, wind can carry the pollen from GM varieties and contaminate non-GM varieties. And there is no mandatory labeling of GM content in seed, says Kristina Hubbard, advocacy and communications director for the Organic Seed Alliance. (To read about other issues surrounding GM crops, see The Threats From Genetically Modified Foods.)

Though few vegetable seeds are GM now, they may be soon. One way to avoid GM seeds is to buy certified organic seed, which, according to the National Organic Program, must not be genetically modified. If a seed catalog doesn’t say a seed has been tested, ask the supplier.

In a nutshell: Hybrids are the product of guided natural reproduction, while GMOs are the result of unnatural, high-tech methods used to create untested organisms that would never emerge in nature.

— Vicki Mattern, Contributing Editor

Above: Many processed foods contain GM ingredients, even though the long-term effects of GMOs are unknown. 

Photo Courtesy USDA Agricultural Research Service 


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .



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Post a comment below.

 

Socrates
7/10/2013 6:34:41 PM

The ideology the author is presenting in this argument is that things that arise in nature will not be harmful.  Would the author suggest the readers drink hemlock tea?  It shows a lack of knowledge of general genetics to think that hybridizing will never yield harmful results.  You could be selecting for genes which produce toxins that prevent herbivory and may be toxic to humans etc.  Also to say that modern GM techniques are not natural is incorrect.  The techniques utilize naturally occuring bacteria which introduce their genome into the plants.  These bactria in nature are agents of horizontal gene transfer and using them is just as natural as crossing a plant that grows in Europe with one that grows in the Americas to produce a hybrid.  (This would not happen "naturally")  Finally Stratrat's comment below relies on the belief that correlation equals causation which is not a scientifically valid form of evidence.  I suggest he takes his own advice to do a little grammar homework himself. DOOD.....


stratrat
5/15/2013 11:00:35 AM

T brandt you really need to do some homework...you haven't noticed in the last 20 years that all kinds of desease, disorders,unlabled carcinogens have incresed 10 fold...WAKE UP dood!! No reason for this crap to happen other than the environment.... and that environment is man made now....bastards!! You have either got to work for them or your just blind..

 


Jim
4/12/2013 2:18:16 PM
well then learn to write

michael schaeffer
2/25/2013 4:27:49 AM
Sorry for the grammar errors. I wish there was an edit option.

michael schaeffer
2/25/2013 4:26:37 AM
MEN is my favorite magazine in spite of its misleading acronym it is the only magazine i still subscribe to. I appreciate your coverage of the gmo issue. Many publications have sold out over the years, one I never thought would, organic gardening, must have Rodale rolling over in his grave! While this article good I'm disappointed with your so called "expert." The author mentions nothing of the Seralini study! Wouldn't readers be concerned with the potential health risks associated with gmos? Considering gmos are in everything processed it might alarm some readers. This study from last year was independent, peer reviewed, published in a respectable journal, and performed over a span more than double any study released by the industry. Have you fallen for the industry's propaganda and believe the study isn't credible? You can find the study in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology “Long Term Toxicity of a Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant GM Maize” by Dr Seralini et al (2012)... and before anyone falls for the propaganda trying to discredit the study read the rebuttals.

chantel fediuk
2/10/2013 10:58:43 PM
I suggest you watch genetic roulette on YouTube, or read the book by Jeffery smith. Come on really no ill effects.. Really take some time to watch you might learn something.. There is no way that man made antibiotics could could cross with a plant without a lab! Fish genes could not cross with a strawberry, either.. And another thing for a company to patent our food by inserting foreign DNA, should also ring some alarm in your head.. " If you control the food supply, you control the people" Henry Kissinger

Barrie Templeton
2/9/2013 9:54:28 PM
Corporations spend huge sums advertising their products to us, and they pay handsomely to the people who write the stories, like Coca-Cola's so-called "Vitamin Water." This is a product, one of many this company has introduced, with the primary objectives of off-setting the growth of (intended) healthier beverages. V-water has minuscule amounts of actual vitamins, but 5 teaspoonsful of sugar, slightly less than a can of Coke! To top this off, they charge way more per container than for Coke itself. C-C's competitors are scarcely any more upstanding

Barrie Templeton
2/9/2013 9:29:29 PM
Although genetic manipulation presents risks, traditional methods of cross-breeding has its shortcomings, too. For examples, look at some of the more grotesque dog varieties that man has created, with faces so contorted the dogs have lifetime respiratory difficulties, or many retriever breeds who suffer congenital hip problems, leading to crippling pain and early death. in the world of plants for food, look at the staff of life. For centuries, man has used wheat as a staple of his diet, and much research has taken place, informally by individual farmers and in laboratories, to find grains with higher yield, weather stability, disease and pest resistance, improved flavour, and other enhancements. Until the 1960s, about half a century ago, using these traditional techniques, new dwarf varieties began to become widespread throughout the wheat-growing world. These varieties offered the large, high-yielding heads that farmers wanted (for improved income opportunities) but on shorter, sturdier stalks that keep the grainhead upright. Until this development, it was difficult to realise the better yields of the newer varieties of wheat, because machinery could not take off the head without knocking a number of kernels off the head. Unfortunately, we are now coming to realise, these new varieties had altered DNA, an inevitability whenever cross-breeding occurs, and the new sequences are causing unintended consequences in many of the people who consume these grains. For a detailed discussion of this, look at "Wheatbelly," by Dr. William Davis. This book claims that not only does this new wheat encourage us to eat more of it, it also stimulates us to consume more sugary foods! This claim has little research to support it, but there is plenty of observation by people who have had severe health issues vanish merely by eliminating wheat from their diets. All to point out that we can't always rely on traditional methods or what "feels" right; by the same token, we can't reject scientific research out-of-hand.

Barrie Templeton
2/9/2013 8:50:33 PM
It is difficult to argue that GMO foods require oversight, especially with the examples of some of the large chemical companies like Monsanto. Round-Up-ready canola seed was sold to Canadian farmers (and I expect in the U.S., too) to allow the heavy application of the herbicide to cropland without harming the crop itself. However, not only has this practice led to some varieties of weeds themselves becoming resistant to RoundUp (not through GMO manipulation, but through natural selection), but Monsanto has actually brought suit against farmers who "allowed seed from Monsanto-protected crops to mix with and cross-breed with other canola crops, violating the company's copyright." This despite no intent on the owner of the infected crop; indeed, one such farmer had been developing, by traditional selection prctices alone, new strains of organically-grown canola. Of course, intrusion of GMO strains has destroyed the research of several years, but Monsanto is the aggrieved party. Truly amazing!

Kanker76
2/8/2013 7:03:37 PM
There is a true statemnet living such a soft life gives these people nothing better to do than sit around and come up with things to worry about.

Rena Ssss
2/8/2013 5:31:03 PM
Whether or not a person eats GMO food should be a matter of free choice. The fact that GMO foods have been sneaked into our food chain in the past is NOT an argument in favor of continuing this practice. (We've all heard about the bad old days when patent medicines and soft drinks contained cocaine!) I quit purchasing from Seeds of Change when I found out they are owned by Mars Foods who gave financial support AGAINST GMO labeling. Again, what we choose to eat or not eat is just that, choice, and should not be dictated to us by big business or the government. which has sold out to big business. Please, just label it.

Kim Broekhuizen
1/24/2013 9:03:29 PM
About eight years ago I became sick with food intolerances and when I went into a restaurant to eat, most of the restaurant workers looked like I was crazy when I told them what I couldn't eat and now less than eight years later almost all restaurants I go to say they take food allergies very seriously. If there aren't a lot more sick people then why have restaurants made such a big change in policy? People are sick and I can not imagine that these food allergies and intolerances are not triggered by a change in our food supply.

t brandt
1/23/2013 10:31:12 AM
Life expectancy of an American in 1938 = 48 yrs. In 1970, 70 yrs, 1980, 72 yrs, 1990, 75yrs. (all eating non-GMO food). By 2010 life expectancy rose to 79yrs after 20 yrs of GMO food. No apparent effect on life expectancy. QED. .. Your knowledge of diabetes (not actually a single disease, but a class of conditions, like "infection" or "cancer,") is insufficient. Many specific gene mutations causing Type II are known; many are still uncharacterized. Even Type I is genetically, immunologically determined, requiriing an environmental insult, like a viral infection, only in susceptible individuals, to manifest itself.... Diabetes is showing itself more now because excssive calories have never been cheaper or more available. Americans eat too many carbs., part of the "anti-meat" mentality...Your attitude about GMO is a matter of faith. Feel free to practice your religion. Just don't spread false info masquerading as "science."

Elizabeth W
1/21/2013 3:20:39 PM
Diabetes is not a genetically determined disease whch manifests itself when excessive calories are consummed. Those are risk factors but the cause is not clearly known. Type II is more related to diet but type I is not. While it is true that all types of Autism are increasingly recognized there is no doubt that more children are affected by types of Autism. Diet is a factor in many diseases. There is big money in GMO's and those big companies don't want the information out there. America is NOT living healthier lives, those that have lived longer are doing so due to modern medicine-have you ever seen the list of medications that most elderly are on? The elderly may have lived longer but the next two-three generations are not living longer or healthier-they are on medications at earlier ages, obesese, can't walk a mile, etc. GMO's are just a piece of the puzzle, we don't know the affects yet on our grandchildren. Unless you grow your own food or buy organic nonGMO you don't know what's in your food and you are trusting the government (yeah right I want to do that!) and the companies that are in it for profit. For me and my family, grandkids, etc-I will choose to keep as much of the non-natural pieces out of the puzzle.

Lori Winje
1/20/2013 11:22:24 PM
Absolutely true.

David Collier
1/20/2013 3:04:06 PM
I agree with you--Lynn!

t brandt
1/19/2013 9:54:48 PM
Diabetes is a genetically determined disease whch manifests itself when excessive calories are consummed. It is not "caused" by the diet any more than cars "cause" traffic deaths. Rates of autism are increasing merely because recognition & reporting of the condition is increasing.This has a lot to do with the availabiltiy of govt funds for school districts. Same for "ADHD," now an epidemic because schools get reimbursed for it, not because it's actually become any more common ....We're living longer, healthier lives for many reasons, and any "problems" caused by GMO, if they really exist, are lost in the "noise" of the data, ie- even if they exist, they're too unremakable to notice. If you have nothing better to worry about, then you live a pretty soft life.

Kathy
1/19/2013 6:48:17 PM
I agree with you completely!!!

Lynn Murdock
1/19/2013 1:29:59 PM
The main reason the government and large corporations have gotten away with poisoning our food supply is because clueless people don't do their homework. I taught my kids 30 yrs. ago that the large multi million dollar food corporations don't care about your health, they are in it for the money. Today they are rich and the American people are sick! Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. So yes bud, keep drinking the kool-aid and put down the people that are trying to come together to fix this madness.

Jonah Ford
1/18/2013 10:50:45 PM
"Americans have been eating GMO foods and there have been exactly zero ill effects recorded..." Wow. 30% od Americans have gastrointestinal disorders, there has been a 50% rise in diabtes in the last 20 years, a 78% rise in autism in the last 10 years. There are zero ill effects recorded because nobody is recording them. As long as nobody keeps track, there's no porblem. All these diseases must be caused by wome other thing. GMO is $uper $afe! Keep drinking the kool-aid bud,

t brandt
1/17/2013 12:46:30 AM
Except for those very few people who have fastidiously eaten only organic food for the past 20 yrs, all Americans have been eating GMO foods and there have been exactly zero ill effects recorded...For the past 20 yrs diabetics have been using human insulin produced by bacteria induced to do so using the exact same technology as that which creates GMO corn, etc. Any ill effects? Should diabetics avoid this insulin?...The author seems to think proprietary work using "natural techniques" to produce hybrids is justifiably rewarded with protecting patents, but using lab techniques to produce hybrids doesn't deserve the same protection. Should writers who produce hand written manuscripts be given copyright protection, but not those who use a word processor?...Why does MEN continue to print this tripe that condemns by inuendo without substantiating their claims with data?.. [BTW- trans-specific gene insertion via viral vectors does occur in nature and probably much more often than has been previously appreciated.]







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