Agricultural Biotechnology

How does genetic modification differ from selective breeding?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
  • HowStuffWorks


  1. Genetic modification changes the DNA pattern of an organism to help create a new organism with desirable traits. This process is often used in commercial corn, cotton and soy production. Generally, the purpose of genetic modification in food crops is to make the organism more resilient or otherwise better-equipped to produce high yields. Some genetic modifications, for example, make plant crops resistant to various poisons, such as Roundup. Such a modification allows the farmer to use Roundup freely on the crop area, eliminating weeds without fear of damaging or killing the crop itself. This usually means that the farmer can produce more of the crop with less labor and expense.

    Selective breeding is a way for humans to nurture desirable traits in plants and animals, but it is much older and less scientific than genetic modification. In selective breeding, two members of the same species are paired as breeding partners in order to encourage desirable characteristics in the offspring. For example, cows that have been observed producing large volumes of milk may be bred to pass that trait on to ensuing generations. This process helps ensure an increase in the milk yield of future cows.

    While selective breeding of plants and animals has been practiced for centuries, genetic modification is still fairly new. As a result, while most people are comfortable with the former practice, many people worry about the safety of the latter. While there are legitimate concerns about the environmental impact of genetically modified crops, evidence indicates that foods produced through biotechnology are just as safe to eat as normal crops. Each product has to pass thorough tests. Every crop is checked for allergens and toxins. While genetically modified foods start out as experiments in a lab, by the time they hit the market, they're practically indistinguishable from crops grown on a conventional farm. Yet traditional crops aren't held to the same scrutiny and could potentially pose more health hazards than genetically modified foods under some circumstances.

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