Writing this morning in the New York Times,James Mcwilliams takes on the idea of genetic modification as “unnatural.” Bureaucrats and anti-GE activists (those few that still exist) insist that transferring genes from one species to another is “unnatural.” That genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) are “unnatural.”
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive … explains that genetic modification occurs when the genetic material of an organism (either DNA or RNA) is altered by use of a method that does not occur in nature. The anti-biotech Non-GMO Project notes that genetic modification creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes that do not occur in nature. The Huffington Post plugged last October as non-GMO month on the grounds that genetic modification produces goods through processes that do not occur in nature. Greenpeace has described breaching species barriers as unnatural. Daily Kos insists that gene splicing does not occur in nature. In a word: frankenfood.
Well, you know where this is going. Scientists have now confirmed what evolutionary geneticists have long suspected nature does produce GMOs. Swedish researchers discovered an enzyme-producing gene in a meadow grass that naturally crossed into sheep’s fescue about 700,000 years ago. The most plausible explanation, said Professor Bengt O. Bengtsson of Lund University, is that the gene was transmitted by a parasite or pathogen, such as a virus, perhaps with the help of a sap-sucking insect.
The fact that cross-species gene transfer happens without human intervention in nature, however rare, provides further justification for viewing transgenic technology not as a Frankensteinian intervention into the natural world, but as yet another method of trait selection, something we’ve been doing with heroic results since the dawn of agriculture… [hat tip AgBioWorld]
So the objections to GE as “unnatural” fall to the ground.