questions + answers
- What is genetic engineering (GE)?
- How does it differ from cross-breeding or other forms of biotechnology?
- Which foods are currently genetically engineered?
- Who is behind GE foods?
- Are GE crops grown in Australia?
- How do GE crops affect the environment?
- What are the health concerns?
- Are GE crops good for farmers?
- Will GE crops feed the world?
- Are GE foods labelled?
- What is organic food?
- Why is animal feed important?
- Does GE food have any health benefits?
The key difference is that genes are moved between species.
Traditional breeding involves breeding organisms within the same species. In genetic engineering, however, genes are forced to move across often quite different species. For example, this kind of manipulation has seen cow genes inserted into soy beans, moth genes into apples, rat genes into lettuce, spider genes into goats and even human genes into rice.
Similarly, while genetic engineering is a form of biotechnology, what sets it apart from many other gene technologies (such as cloning and gene therapy) is that it involves transferring genes across species.
The GE industry is built on the premise that genes and their functions can be isolated, patented, spliced into an organism, and controlled.(1) However, several recent studies have called into question this simplistic view of the science of genetic engineering.
For example, a 2007 study published in the leading scientific journal Nature reveals that genes appear to operate in a complex network where they react, interact and overlap with each other in ways we still do not understand.(2) This research raises serious questions about the established ways in which we assess the safety of GE crops.
(1) Crick FHC (1957) On protein synthesis. Symp. Soc. Exp. Biol., 12, 138-163.
(2) The ENCODE Project Consortium “Identification and analysis of functional elements in 1% of the human genome by the ENCODE pilot project” (2007) Nature, 447: 799-816.