Protato: Genetically Modified Potato

potatoes

Back in April, the EU controversially approved a genetically modified potato, and now it looks like scientists are working on yet another GM spud.

At India’s Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI), scientists are developing a genetically modified potato that has 60% more protein than the conventional sort. They’ve spliced the potato gene with a gene from amaranth, which helps boost the plant’s protein production.

Potatoes are easy to grow in a variety of climates, and much of the world relies on them for a good portion of their calories. By upping the protein, researchers at CPRI are hoping to help fight hunger.

Not only does this potato have more protein, it promises increased yeilds – up to 25% more by weight.

Do We Need a Better Potato?

A typical baked potato has around 2.5 grams of protein, versus 4.8 grams in this new, transgenic version. That’s certainly a big increase, but so many people get more protein than they need already. Is protein deficiency that big of a problem? There are plenty of cheap protein sources, like beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

We’ve heard promises that GM crops mean increased yields before, and they don’t always deliver. Look at what happened when Indian farmers relied on promises about GM cotton.

While preliminary tests on these new potatoes have not shown any allergic or toxic reactions in rats, we can’t know the long term effects of growing and eating food that has been altered on a genetic level. Fighting hunger is a noble aim, but I’m not sure I believe that a silver bullet like this GM potato is a realistic answer.

What do you guys think?

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by funadium

Written by Becky Striepe

7 Comments

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  1. We’ve been crossbreeding plants for thousands of years. This time we’re doing the crossing in a gel. I don’t think we’re going to be growing a third eye or anything over tweaked potatoes. Now I’m not an expert by any means, but I’m pretty sure that anything bad that could come of tweaking the DNA would’ve rendered the potato poisonous.

    • I agree that “anything bad that could come of tweaking the DNA would’ve rendered the potato poisonous.” It comes down to your definition of poisonous. Do you mean that it poisons our water?

      http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2010/10/04/bt-toxin-from-genetically-modified-corn-found-in-u-s-streams/

      Or that it’s harmful to human health?

      http://planetsave.com/2009/06/18/report-genetically-modified-gm-crops-are-harmful-to-your-health/

      Not all poisons are lethal, and splicing genetic material is much different from something like grafting or cross-breeding.

      • As entertaining as those links look, if you actually bother to look into the sources they are far less dire then made out to be.

        For example with the BT toxin, they only say that it is present, not the concentration; This is an important distinction because I highly doubt it is even close to LD1(probably 0) levels. There are chemical toxins all over the place, saying they are present doesn’t mean anything; There are radioactive isotopes in organic foods but they aren’t harmful.

        “splicing genetic material is much different from something like grafting or cross-breeding.”
        No it’s not, that you would say something like that shows your extreme lack of knowledge in regard to GM. Almost all the products of GM could have been bred given enough time, not to mention natural breeding is still used extensively in GM crops. It’s not like they just pop up a whole field out of a test tube.

        Of course there is outlying “franken-crops” such as tomato being spliced with fish DNA. These are almost exclusively used to test genetic markers or the effects of modifying a specific gene in a certain way, they rarely go to market.

        I do agree that foods should be regulated for safety(and that a lot of GM products has gotten off to easily), but applying a blanket fear statements to all GM foods is just ludicrous.

        Frankly, the world could not survive as we know it without GM foods, period. We can’t even feed the people we have now with higher yielding/nutrition crops(such as a potato with higher protein for areas where meat is hard to come by), “traditional” / organic crops simply are not sufficient.

        You are well within your rights to choose to eat non-GM foods. But I find it a hard pill to swallow telling a starving child that GM food is poisonous and he shouldn’t eat it, when the alternative is starvation.

        I’m not even going to bother addressing all that is wrong with the second link. It just reads as a misinformation/misquote sheet plugging organic foods. The sources for the actual article, the AAEM(an acronym shared with a far more reputable journal) is just a pseudo-scientific/opinion sham. Right in their description they have items that no real science journal would touch with a fifty foot pole; such as ‘Sauna Depuration’ or ‘Detoxification’ under several pseudonyms.

  2. I’m going to grow potatoes in my front yard next year. I grew some potatoes from true seed this year and have saved the tubers to plant next year. My German Butterball potatoes did really well this year, no genetic modification necessary! I don’t see how this potato is going to fight hunger. I believe that more than enough food can be produced for everyone in the world organically and without genetic modification.

  3. Awesome. At least they had the sense to use amaranth genes. Now maybe our potatoes will grow like weeds and we’ll be hard pressed to get rid of them. Really, they need to find a way to guarantee that genetically engineered foods aren’t going to be the death of us all. I think they need to use smarter methods. Some of the things they do to make things resistant to disease frighten me. Seeing as hybrids are generally much more resistant to disease, I think they should work on combining methods of hybridization and genetic engineering for better results. I mean, it would be great if they could use genetic engineering to improve the likelihood of fertile offspring, any offspring at all, etc.

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