What is genetic modification?

Natural selection tends to favour plants that can compete for light, water and nutrients, defend themselves from being eaten, and disperse their seed over long distances These characteristics are in direct conflict with the goals of agriculture, where farmers want plants to invest as many of their resources as possible into making nutritious, easy to harvest products. Genetic improvement has been a central pillar of improved agricultural productivity for 1000s of years with modern crop varieties being much higher yielding and generally more nutritious than their wild ancestors. Even with our modern crop varieties, continued improvement is both possible and necessary to meet growing demand. New characteristics can be introduced into crops using either conventional cross breeding or Genetic Modification (GM for short). The characteristics of all living organisms, such as size, colour and shape, are determined by their genes and their interaction with the environment. With improvements in our knowledge about which plant genes do what, we now know many genes that could contribute to improving sustainable food production. In some cases, conventional breeding will be the best way to deploy these genes that is by cross breeding the crop variety with the plant that contains the genes providing these characteristics. In other cases, GM, where scientists take a gene and insert it directly into a crop, might be easier, or indeed the only way they can be deployed. If you want to discover more about how GM is done, if it’s safe and effective, or what GM plants are grown and where, you can find the answers to these and many other questions about GM in the independent, fact-based Q&A available on our website.


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