General Article The GM debate in context

Topic Selected: Biotech and Bioethics
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By Helen Birtwistle

What’s new about GM technology?

For thousands of years farmers and plant breeders have been changing the genetic makeup of crops to improve characteristics like size, resistance to disease and taste. They started simply by sowing only those seeds that came from plants with desirable traits. Later, knowledge about plant reproduction enabled crossbreeding of plants to create new crops, with scientists using chemicals and radiation to introduce favourable mutations. Now genetic engineering makes it possible to overcome natural reproductive barriers, as a single gene with a desired function can be transferred into an existing crop variety. At the centre of the debate is the question of whether GM is simply the next stage in the development of agricultural technologies or whether it represents a new departure with risky and irreversible consequences.

Does GM create new risks?

Plant scientists generally claim the former. Because genetic modification is more precise...

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