GMOs show promise, but better oversight is needed

 

Gardeners like to say they grow their own food, but in reality the best we can do is rob plants of their seeds and fruits or eat the plants.

That’s because only plants using photosynthesis can create their own food.

Photosynthesis allows plants to harvest carbon dioxide from the air and then use sunlight to power the extraction of water and nutrients from the soil.

The waste from the process is oxygen, which was present in the atmosphere in only trace amounts when the plants initially developed.

Scientists think that’s why the plants aren’t very efficient at distinguishing between carbon dioxide and oxygen molecules when they draw in air.

If the plant accidentally selects an oxygen molecule, it develops a toxin that it has to purge from its system.

Despite this inefficiency, plants still do a good job growing, and the oxygen they produce as metabolic waste is the primary reason why there’s so much of it in the air now.

But NBC Science News reports agricultural scientists are looking at ways to make plants more efficient. Improving photosynthesis so plants can grow larger is the focus of their efforts.

Larger plants should mean larger harvests and more food for the  world’s growing population.

The research is focused on the process that a plant uses to rid itself of the oxygen toxin.

Researchers modified the DNA of tobacco plants to make the detox process more efficient, and as a result the plants are growing about 40% faster and larger.

The experiments are still underway.

No food crops have been modified or marketed.

The need for more efficient plants is increasingly evident, and this type of research may help with one of the biggest problems environmentalists are finding.

As greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, forest trees are becoming less efficient at cleaning them out of the air.

Efforts to control environmental damage hinge on the ability of plants, especially trees, to continue to function at their historic levels.

Researchers already know of several plants, such as ragweed and poison ivy, that are thriving with increased greenhouse gas levels because they may have developed methods to pick out carbon dioxide molecules efficiently or avoid creating oxygen toxins.

Although these plants are considered bad actors, it may be possible to transfer their traits to plants used in agriculture and forestry.

Genetically modified plants have become controversial, although humans have been modifying plants for thousands of years by selecting plants with desirable traits from naturally occurring hybrids.

As potential problems develop in the plants we use for food,  consumers may have to get used to the idea of genetically modified plants in the marketplace.

That means it’s time for government agencies, agribusinesses and laboratories to develop far better safety protocols before laboratory modified plants are marketed and released into the outside world.

The stakes are too high to allow the mistakes that have been allowed in the past in the race for quick profit.

 

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