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Is Transformation Really that Different from Backcrossing?

GUEST POST: Benjamin Edge

Benjamin Edge (@edgeben) is a former wheat breeder for Pioneer Hi-Bred, International, a DuPont Company, and for Clemson University. He has released 10 PVP protected wheat varieties and is a co-inventor of record for 5 wheat variety patents. He has taught classes in plant breeding, biology, and computer technology.

Transformation, the insertion of genes into an organism through the use of a ‘gene gun’ or a bacterial vector, is a tool used by plant breeders to introduce new traits to a crop when there is not enough readily useful variation present in the crop they are trying to improve. Transformation results in what we commonly refer to as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. While some consider this a risky technology,  transformation is actually very similar in effect to what conventional breeders do when they find a gene of interest in a wild relative, and use backcrossing to incorporate that gene into an adapted variety.

Backcrossing is a VERY effective tool of conventional plant breeders (Briggs and Knowles, 1977). Once you find a trait you are interested in, you can move that trait from a wild relative (closely related species) or from any member of the species you are working with into an adapted variety with great repeatability (reproduced or repeated easily). Backcrossing is used when you have a well adapted variety, say plant A, with high yield, large seeds, and strong stems, but with some weakness, such as susceptibility to a disease. If you find a plant, say plant B, with disease resistance, but poor yield, small seeds, and weak stems, you can use backcrossing to incorporate that disease resistance trait into plant A, what we call introgression of the trait.

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The 10 Minor Realizations That Flipped My Thinking About GMOs


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We might not need GE Crops right now- but Africa sure does

Guest post by Graham Strouts,  originally from his blog SkeptEco 02-03-14.

Prof. Robert Paalberg’s book Starved for Science stands as a damning indictment of the environmental movement’s ideological campaign against genetic engineering, which has made the task of solving hunger and poverty in rural Africa much more difficult by keeping it from those who need it the most.

Book Review:
First posted on 10 September 2010 on

Starved for science: How Biotechnology is being kept out of Africa

IMG_1625Robert Paalberg
Harvard University Press 2009 Pbck 235pp

Harvard Professor Robert Paalberg has written a book that makes essential reading for anyone interested in global food politics and why Africa still fails to feed many of its people.

Africa remains the only region on earth with increasing poverty and hunger. The number of Africans living on less than a dollar a day increased 50% since the early 90s; Between 1991 and 2002 the number of malnourished people in Africa increased from 169 to 206 million, with nearly a third of sub-Saharan Africa malnourished, compared with just 17% in the developing world as a whole.

Paalberg accounts for this as a result of policies that since the 1970s have resulted in a massive decline in investment in agricultural science in Africa. While in Asia and South America, farmers benefited from the new science of the green Revolution, and have been able to both feed their growing population- confounding the predictions of neo-Malthusians- and bring many out of poverty as well. India started planting new Green Revolution short-straw varieties in 1964; by 1970 production had doubled, averting fears of famine.

Why did Africa get left behind? Paalberg argues that while in Asia and South America had strong enough institutions and science to continue with their own scientific developments with little further outside assistance, Africa was became influenced by a change in the political and cultural climate in Europe from the 1980s onwards. In particular, this has seriously slowed the uptake of Genetic Engineering in Africa, which Paalberg argues is a result in part of the ideological position of many NGOs working in Africa.

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500 Words in 1287 words or less

My contributing essay to the GMO Skepti-Forum series In 500 Words, What is Your Stance on GMOs in Society? just went up this morning. Here’s a little sample:

I grew up working on …

more here.

My mind is a work in progress

This is my blog about the March Against Monsanto in Santa Fe on May 25, 2013. It originally appeared here.

I debated a long time about whether to go and will explain why I went, what my debate was, and what concerns I think merit marching over.

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3 Ways to Move the Goal Posts on GMOs and Defend Your Position Without Getting Caught (very often)

1.Strategy: Insist that other, major variables that require massive resources and a lengthy time horizon need to be addressed in tandem with your solution in order for your preferred solution to work and your rival’s solution to become obsolete. The moral bonus of this strategy is that only you are addressing the roots of the problem. (Not really, but keep telling yourself that.)

Example: If we ended poverty there would be no need for Golden Rice.

What you are really saying: If the world was a completely different place than it is, then my strategy would be more appropriate than yours.

2. Strategy: Insist that the solving a completely different problem would be a better than solving the problem under discussion.

Example: We shouldn’t even be talking about feeding 9 billion people. We should be talking about population control.

What you are really saying: My preferred solution is clearly inadequate to the task at hand, but it wouldn’t be, if the task at hand were radically changed to accommodate my preferred solution.

3. Strategy: Insist that we need a more holistic approach.

Example: GMOs are only about improving a single trait in a crop, but we need to address many different issues.

What you are really saying: It hasn’t occurred to me that a holistic approach is composed of a collection of single elements.