• Question: What are genetically modified plants and how will they help us in the future?

    Asked by thecatalyst to David, James, Mike, Suze, Will on 21 Jun 2011.
    • Photo: Suze Kundu

      Suze Kundu answered on 17 Jun 2011:

      Hi Thecatalyst!

      OK, so imagine tomatoes. Lovely to eat, but quite delicate to grow. They don’t react well to cond weather, and frost can really destroy crops.

      Now think about fish, and how good they are at handling near-freezing temperatures in the water. Not so good on pizza though. Anyway, fish have a gene that helps them cope with this temperature, so that they don’t get frostbite, shrivel and die.

      If we can find this gene, cut it out of a fish’s DNA and stick it into the DNA of a tomato, the tomato is likely to be able to resist the cold weather, just like the fish. In this way, the amount of tomatoes that we get will be higher, and this will help us to make sure everyone gets enough food.

      Does that make sense? Can you think of any other genes that we could use from one animal or plant to improve another?

    • Photo: Mike Dodd

      Mike Dodd answered on 17 Jun 2011:

      Hey Thecatalyst,

      Suze has answered this one very well 🙂 There are also some very cool rice plants that can now grow in salty water. They have a new gene in them that means they can live in salt water, like sea water. Normal rice would die in these conditions and farmers in poorer nations would lose out. But now this new rice could be grown next to the sea. Any cool features you think plants should have, to help them grow well?

    • Photo: William Eborall

      William Eborall answered on 20 Jun 2011:

      Good answers guys 🙂 There are also some genetically modified plants that have been made so that they are healthier for us to eat such as “Golden Rice” () which contains beta-carotene which is used in your eyes. Lots of people in Asia don’t have enough beta-carotene in their food and risk becoming blind because of it. Golden rice could help prevent this.

      Another example is purple tomatoes () which contain a chemical which might help prevent us getting cancer.

    • Photo: James Marrow

      James Marrow answered on 21 Jun 2011:

      I agree with the others that genetically modified plants can give some species special properties, but I do worry about the possibility of unintended spread of these genes into other plants. I also wonder if this is the only way that crop yields can be improved.

      Working with the nuclear industry, I’m aware of the tremendous efforts that are made to ensure safety and to reduce risk and the possible consequences of accidents, and I wonder if the same efforts are made in the genetic modification area. I would be much happier if all GM crops were sterile when introduced into the environment, for example. We know that no matter what is done, accidents do happen and we need to be able to minimise the possible consequences of these.