"Now, it's much more possible to take different genetic characteristics of a grain crop, for instance, and pinpoint the traits you want to turn on or off, create different types of crops with improved characteristics," Strauss said.
"Conceptually, this is the same thing we've been doing on a hit-or-miss basis with conventional crop breeding for centuries," he said. "For instance, creating crops that grew faster, were more nutritious or had seedless fruits. But now we can target our goals much more specifically and achieve the types of products we're looking for much more quickly."
When this is all being done within the same plant or closely related species, Strauss said, history suggests that it poses virtually no environmental hazard, and there's no need to make such a dramatic distinction between crops created with conventional breeding or those created with genetic engineering.
Many of the types of traits selected for agricultural purposes, such as dwarf fruit trees, seedless fruits or male-sterile hybrids, often have little in the way of competitive survival value in a natural environment, Strauss said, and thus pose very little danger of "invading" ecosystems. But decades of work with conventional crop breeding has shown that even plants with some types of increased survival value on farms, such as improved pest tolerance, have no increased success in invading a wild ecosystem.
Right now, Strauss said, government agencies regulate all genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, pretty much the same a plant that has been genetically engineered to grow shorter faces similar regulatory hurdles as a plant that has been genetically engineered to produce a novel protein. This ignores the widely different potential that two different GMOs may have for the risks people are genuinely concerned about nutritiona
Contact: Steven Strauss
Oregon State University