Transgenic Plants – Reality Check

Screen Shot 2013 04 30 at 2 06 54 PMAfter Nearly 20 Years, What’s Up With Genetically-Engineered Crops?

Genetically-engineered (or more commonly referred to as “genetically-modified”) crops have come along way since the ill-fated “Flavr Savr” tomato was first commercially produced and sold in 1994. (For more on the Flavr Savr tomato, see Update at the end of this post.)

Did you know that in 2012 genetically-modified (GM) corn, soybean and cotton accounted for nearly 90% of total planted acres of these crops in the United States? (see current USDA data)

Consequently, the U.S. produces more GM crops than any other country.

But the rest of the world is quickly catching up, with Canada, Argentina, Brazil, India, Australia, and China all planting more and more GM crops. (Please see here for current data on international GM crops.) has previously explored various topics involving transgenic plants, beginning here.

What motivated me to revisit this topic is a recent special issue of Nature magazine (2 May 2013, see cover above), which provides excellent articles summarizing the current state of affairs of probably the most controversial subject in the plant sciences, namely, commercially-grown GM crop plants.

Hat’s Off to Nature Magazine

Please Note: All the articles linked to below are free to read online, even if you don’t have a subscription. So, first, thanks to the publishers of Nature magazine for that.

Probably the best place to start is the brief introduction: Plant biotechnology: Tarnished promise.

Next up, see how pervasive GM crops have become in the American, and international, agricultural landscape by reading: GM Crops: A Story in Numbers (please be sure to check out the informative slideshow provided).

Are GM crops fueling the rise of herbicide-resistant ‘superweeds’? Are they driving farmers in India to commit suicide? Are the foreign transgenes in GM crops finding their way into other plants? These questions are addressed by Natasha Gilbert in: Case studies: A hard look at GM crops.

Where to from here for GM crops? I’ve explored this question in a previous post. But a more recent update is presented by Daniel Cressey in his excellent article entitled: Transgenics: A New Breed

Finally, the editors of Nature provide their take on GM crops in Fields of Gold. (Spoiler Alert!) Their conclusion: “Research on transgenic crops must be done outside industry if it is to fulfil its early promise.“.

But Wait, There’s More….

In addition to these freely-accessible news articles, Nature has also included in this special issue a “Perspective” article that “…reviews research on membrane transporters in plants that could lead to traits such as stress resistance and increased nutrient content.” (see Ref. 1 below). Although this article is only available, in full, to subscribers, you can read a thorough summary of it here.


#1 You can view video about the history of the Flavr Savr tomato HERE.

#2 Read a thoughtful essay against the rapid commercialization of GMO crops by Dr. David Suzuki here (PDF).


1. Schroeder, J. I., et al. (2013) “Using membrane transporters to improve crops for sustainable food production.” Nature, Vol. 497, pp. 60–66. (Abstract)

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