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Ancestral Genetic Resources Provide an Alternative to GMO Crops

Ethnobotany Research and Applications
Botanical Research Institute of Texas
Publication Date
  • Agricultural Science
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering


Concern about the effects of pesticides on human health and the environment, has been a major rationale for promoting transgenic crops, often referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or as genetically enhanced (GE) crops. Companies that sell genetically engineered crop plants claim that biotechnology offers a safe alternative to agricultural chemicals and is necessary to feed the world’s expanding human population. However, there are still many unknowns about the safety of GMOs for human health and the environment, and virtually nothing is known about how the genomes of organisms may be affected by horizontal transfer of alien genes into plants, animals, and even humans. An alternative approach to transgenic technology is the exploitation of beneficial genes from wild relatives of crop plants using conventional breeding methods. This paper describes how genetic engineering differs from conventional plant breeding, then compares and contrasts benefits from transgenic engineering with traditional methods of crop improvement. An example of how the ancestral genes model has been employed to impart an insect resistance trait to corn based on native resistance from a wild relative is compared to transgenic corn with resistance to the same insect engineered with a transgene from a bacterium. Using the ancestral genes approach, harmful chemicals used to control the worst insect pest of corn can be eliminated with no consequences to human health or the environment; whereas with the transgenic approach, there are many safety concerns in both arenas.

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