It is said that genetic engineering is simply “the latest in a flawless range of biotechnologies practised by human beings since beginning of civilization, from breadand wine making to selective breeding.” Although it is true that the food crops we are eating today have little resemblance from the wild plant from which they originated, there are cleardifferences between genetic engineering and selective breeding.
In traditional forms of breeding, varieties have been achieved through selection of multitude of genetic traits that already existwithin a species’ gene pool. In nature, genetic diversity is created within certain limits. A rose can be crossed with a different kind of rose, but a rose can never be crossed with a potato.Even when species that may seem to be closely related succeed breeding, the offspring is always infertile – a horse, for example, can mate with an ass, but the offspring (a mule) is infertile.Genetic engineering, on the other hand, usually involves taking genes from one species and inserting them into another in an attempt to transfer the designed trait or character. This couldmean, for example, selecting a gene which leads to the production of a chemical with an antifreeze property from an artic fish and splicing it into a potato or strawberry to make it frostresistant. It is now possible for plants to be engineered with genes taken from bacteria, viruses, animals or even humans.
It is often argued that there is no scientific foundation to concernsabout these cross-species transfers, because there’s evidence that bacteria and viruses have often transferred genes between species in the course of evolution. According to this line of thinking,genetic engineering speeds up what is essentially a natural process.
(Genetic Engineering, Food, and Our Environment, by Luke Anderson, 1999, Green Books, Ltd., United Kingdom – Introduction)