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Debate on HT GM Crops

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Fears over herbicide-tolerant (HT) genetically modified (GM) crops as expressed in the letter, “Herbicide-tolerant GM Crops” by Seema Kulkarni and others (EPW, 20 July 2019) are a window into the raging debate between environmental activists (opponents of GM crops) and biotechnologists and farmers (both proponents of GM crops). So far, the debate has moved from the balanced perspective of compromise and conciliation towards entrenched opinions as much in favour of GM crops as against them.

The genetic modification of plants and animals is not exactly a new phenomenon. Over the ages, humans have tossed the genetic dice with crops, juggling and blending genomes since the introduction of agriculture. Traditional cross-breeding involves hybridising a domestic variety with a wild variety possessing some desired trait of interest (for example, insect resistance). The initial crossing mixes thousands of genes, resulting in a unique genetic hybrid possessing traits from both initial varieties. Consequently, a second stage of back-crossing between the hybrid and the domesticated variety is adopted to reduce the number of unwanted wild genes. But, the hallmark of biotechnology is that it permits the researchers to isolate and transfer only the gene or genes of interest. Finally, what is seen is that cross-breeding, despite the back-crossing effort, allows some residual wild genes to persist in a new hybrid, whereas biotechnology techniques are specific.

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Updated On : 13th Sep, 2019

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