Hybrid Seeds vs. GMOs


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.)

3/28/2016 6:54:25 PM

Barrie, Chantel, Socrates. Glad to see your comments, to see others out there with their eyes wide open to the bigger picture and that the general picture most people see is PAID FOR by big corporations who don't give two hoots about anyone, only their swelling profit margins. Socrates, I love your comment about drinking hemlock tea! I am disappointed that ME gave space to this article and probably paid $$$ for it too! If I was to try and explain what is wrong with this article and back it up with full facts, I would be stuck at the computer for the next week, so I shan't. We all have a brain and hopefully, common sense. Meanwhile, I am going out to check my heritage livestock and pick some of my heritage, open-pollenated vegetables.

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.....

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..


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