GM, or genetically modified crops are known for being herbicide tolerant, meaning they can be sprayed with a weed-killer that kills all other growing plants. This isn’t as efficient as it sounds, as some weeds are getting just as tolerant as the GM crops and developing a resistance to herbicides. Of course, GM organisations are making promises about developing new improved crops, with more nutritional benefits, with better drought tolerance, with a greater yield and so on. But considering the fact that genetic modification was developed in the 1980s and first used in the 1990s, either these companies’ research is really slow, or they are simply not efficient especially since new “super crops” have indeed been developed and aren’t the results of GM technology at all! They have been developed using normal crop breeding techniques created by farmers and improved by our new knowledge of DNA and specific genes’ functions. This successful technique is called Marker Assisted Selection (MAS) and is being used by farmers all over the world. A Genetic Marker is a gene with a known location and it’s used to identify a trait. A knowledge of Genetic Markers allows the farmers to screen large populations of crops for those that possess the trait of interest. As this screening is based on the presence or absence of a certain gene, rather than on traditional visual identification, this new DNA knowledge allows selection to be made more quickly and accurately. In the past farmers sometimes had to wait for generations.
There has been some controversy regarding MAS, claiming that the resulting crops are genetically modified when in fact they aren’t. MAS can only develop traits present in closely-related species whereas GM allows the input of almost any gene, permitting introduction of traits not available within the species! Are GM companies feeling threatened by MAS? If MAS is clearly the future, will it lead to the end of GM?