Genetically modified myths and realities

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Abstract or Summary

Myths abound when it comes to GE crops. At their worst, myths play an active role in discouraging the use of GE to solve problems that afflict humankind, such as malnutrition and birth defects. Of all the various myths, two have been particularly important in preventing the use of GE maize in its areas of origin. The first is that transgenic maize will contaminate and destroy land races, thus destroying biodiversity and its associated cultural traditions. This myth totally ignores the fact that the gene flow that has taken place between maize and its progenitor, between the land races, and between land races and modern hybrids, has not led to any dire consequences. The second myth is that crops are natural and have not been modified by humans, or if they have, that plant breeding does not alter DNA. This myth ignores the fact that for the most part, it is impossible to alter the appearance of crops without changing the DNA. In fact, DNA movement within the crop genome is normal and its movement leads to double-strand DNA repair, with results like those found around transgene insertion sites. In addition, plants have ways to create novel genes. These changes help plants adapt to evolution and to human selection. The net result is that changes similar to what happens during the production of engineered plants takes place anyway in plant genomes.

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