A Race to Save the Orange by Altering Its DNA

Growers turned to genetics in hopes of building a tougher orange tree. But would the public accept genetically modified food?
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This is a very slipper slope! I do not want genetically modified food in my diet, period. Enough with the Frankenstein stuff; it's just an excuse to make more money for the bio-agro industries, but it could wreak havoc on the human family, and the whole planet itself. Our best and brightest are also our most dangerous and condescending. Stop the GMFs now!

3 2017-10-21 18:02:41 - Tropicalgardener

The book "Oranges" by John McPhee is a bit dated, but has a lot of surprising information about oranges, and citrus in general. If you plant all the seeds from any single citrus plant, you could get oranges, lemons, grapefruits, or many other varieties of citrus tree. Orange trees are produced by grafting commercially rather than grown from seed (onto sturdy rootstock that produces a poor fruit itself). Despite this variation in a few unstable genes, it is likely that a more stable genetic modification would be inherited by most or all the descendants from seed -- but they might not all be oranges.

0 2017-08-09 00:55:39 - StevenearChicago

Diabetics shouldn't drink orange juice. Toddlers shouldn't either. Neither should people with focus and attention issues, or those with stomach problems or the obese. The citrus crop in Florida is a huge environmentally damaging mono crop. Juice in the quantities promoted by the juice industry are bad for you just like soda. I'll take my spinach from the local farm stand in an omelet from free range eggs with one orange slice imported from Israel, thank you. Oh and why we're those grove workers covered from heat to toe and wearing face coverings. Pesticides perhaps?

4 2017-07-24 05:10:19 - Ursula

Evolution continues constantly. The folks who think it was built to the specific world don't understand how evolution continues essentially _between_ generations and whatever survives is because of the environment, not 'because' of the gene-mixing.

Scientifically, the difference between breeding and GMOing is a matter of years as much as anything else. Biologically, nothing changes.

Economically, Monsanto is evil because they want to _lie_ about their products, claiming no one will buy them if they are labeled GMO.

That is hogwash. If Monsanto passes cost-savings along to consumers, the product will sell. It's exactly what Adam Smith said about how a freely competitive market leads to lower prices for consumers.

0 2017-07-08 14:03:12 - MikeM

Genetically altered food did cause massive tumors in rats compared to those who ate conventional or organic food!

2 2017-07-04 06:34:35 - Nancy Levit

Actually, Ellen, it usually is done by grafting a non-dwarf variety onto a dwarf rootstock.

0 2017-06-12 20:02:41 - Uly

GMOs are proving to have lower yield than organic. Don't believe this neat little piece of propaganda that leaves out how, to insert a gene from a different species, the immune system of the host plant is broken down by virus or botulism or some such invader.

We have no long term studies on how this is affecting human health because Monsanto has the power to crush truth tellers.

0 2017-06-05 13:55:21 - Laura

What WOULD we do without Scientific American?

0 2017-05-15 13:22:18 - John B

People have been modifying animals and food for hundreds of years. Natural selection has been modifying the entire world for millions of years. We just have a new technology to continue to do what we've been doing. Plus I love a good orange.

0 2017-04-12 06:40:50 - Los

Nature had millions of years to come up with the varieties it did to insure life on earth. Humans had thousands of years to develop hybrids that improved upon what nature provided. Our chemical industry then dumped a bunch of stuff into our environment over the space of a few decades to make food cheaper to produce and it took us decades to learn it wasn't all that healthy. Now, we're asked to accept GE food with only years of safety research.

There are some basic realities that we are currently living with. First, the present state of our science is not capable of giving us cheap, great tasting fruit and vegetables without some tradeoff in risking long term health issues because there are "unknown unknowns" that we're not aware of and therefore not testing for. Secondly, the companies that make our fruit and vegetables have a fairly short window to make the profit they need to stay in business and this window is infinitely shorter than the window we need to discover the "unknown unknowns".

These facts call for smart, in-depth testing and regulation, a function best left to independent government agencies. Instead, we're cutting the ability of governments to provide this protection. I'd feel a lot better about GE food if I felt it was being tested properly by people without vested interests. Any other approach, whether it be banning GE food at one extreme or allowing it to go forward without long term testing at the other extreme, is just asking for trouble.

203 2017-04-03 10:30:23 - Jack Hartman

I have seen a number of valid concerns, some of what I consider to be unnecessary anxiety - and more than a little knee-jerk anti-scientism displayed in these comments, just as I have in almost every commented article I have read in recent years.

Unfortunately, GM foods evoke the same sorts of responses as any public discussion of evolution or of vaccination: (less than) one part rationality, one part repeated dogma, and (more than) one part pure garbage.

There is a possible non-GM solution on the horizon, however: recent developments by Nomad Bioscience in Germany mean that it may be possible to use sprayable Agrobacterium tumefaciens - a bacterium that is ALREADY sprayed around in industrial quantities, to prevent against crown gall disease - to transiently introduce derived traits into crop plants. This means that one could potentially spray orchards with a recombinant bug to protect them against the disease, until the threat passes. Then simply wait for the Agrobacterium to die off, and the recombinant protein to stop being made. See here for a report on the technology: http://rybicki.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/pbvab-5-part-2/

Personally, I'd rather eat GM oranges. At least I'd know what was in them....

0 2017-03-24 07:56:05 - Ed Rybicki

I'm an organic farmer. But I also like to think of myself as a man of science. The problem is most people are neither. A lot of people don't know where their food comes from, let alone how it's grown. There's a disconnect from food.

The average consumer is misinformed and manipulated by both sides of the debate. This article proves that. Even the farmers don't understand the science. I grow organically, but I'm not absolutely opposed to GMOs. What I do take issue with is the way certain companies have gone about things.

Bt corn - It's a filler. Fed to livestock to plump them up faster. It's something they would practically never eat. Cows were evolved/created to eat grasses. Eating corn day in and day out puts them on the fast track to the grave. If we didn't slaughter them when we do, they'd die in agony over the damage the corn does to their body. But is this because of the Bt? No, not necessarily. And I'll attest. Bt is used in organic agriculture. Sorry to burst your bubble folks.

Science and genetics have come a very long way in just the last decade. But we still have a ways to go. There are things we just don't know yet. The microscopic level of life is complicated and is still a mystery in a lot of ways. I think that eventually GMOs could solve a great many food issues. But we need to go slower. Learn more.

We now know that we're in some ways the microbial colonies inside us.

So I have to question; how does anti-bacterial GMO crops affect us?

1 2017-03-22 02:48:29 - Farmer Rye

"Let the marketing department handle the 'creep factor'..."

I think you're right, but that's easier said than done. To be successful, they'll have to explain genetic engineering, and they'll have to overcome "but-what-if?" fears.

1 2017-03-18 17:15:04 - DS

Hey. This article is about a disease that is quickly killing all the orange trees in Florida and starting in on the trees in California and Brazil. All the comments are about "How can we be sure that genetically modified plants are safe?
There is no evidence I have seen that G.M. plants are dangerous, while there seems to be lots of testing showing that they're not.
I like orange juice, and from this article it appears my choice will be between G.M. juice and no juice at all.
Pass the Minute Maid, I say.

5 2017-03-15 09:07:48 - Jim Herald

On one side of the spectrum are people who blindly trust anything the government does, "true-blue" Americans. At the other side, hummingbird1, are people like you, rabid and self-inflating, knowing everything. Life is not black and white, but rather many shades of gray. Clearly, you scanned the article for any soundbites that would support your already-made-up mind, rather than reading it thoughtfully. I don't have the answers, but I do know that sticking your head in the sand and refusing to consider all of the options to solve a difficult problem with far-reaching ramification, isn't helpful. It's just obstructionist. I'd love to hear your ideas for solving this...

23 2017-03-05 18:59:06 - Richard L

thank you for your concise statement of the matter. I have never understood the fuss about GMO - it always has occurred (or we would never be) and will always occur.

0 2017-03-02 03:54:59 - am

You grow a whole lot of oranges there in Connecticut?

I'm not ostile to the ideas of diversity, but go back to the beginning: THIS ARTICLE made a point of saying that natural citrus diversity simply doesn't exist in a way that'd deal with the problem. Absent a concerted effort, the likely result would be a worldwide spread of the disease, and oranges turned into a luxury good, grown in isolated greenhouses, until traditional cross-breeding finally came up with a plant that produced an acceptable yield against *this* threat.

0 2017-02-27 17:07:37 - Walt French

Thank you Mr. Spitzer.
I also disagree with the branding of farms as corporate agricultural monsters. First off, I live in farming country, the Louisiana and Mississippi delta has long been known for fertile soil and farming. In fact my family has a long history in agriculture, our family farm has been in our family continuously since 1835. My son is a farmer, a rather large one, by our measure here in the South, probably small compared to some of the larger Midwestern and Western farms, but it's a family operation, and it sure as heck isn't a corporate conglomerate! In fact having lived in this area all of my 69 years, I don't know of one single Giant corporate farm as many describe, but I do know a lot of individual farmers who are working pretty hard every day trying to keep your grocery shelves stocked and clothes on your backs.
I truly believe that 99% of the people who talk about "Corporate Mega Agriculture" wouldn't know a combine from a milking machine!! They read about all the horrible Corporate farms, mono cropping, everything bad about agriculture, but little do they realize that most of the crops produced here in the USA are from family run farms, not the bucolic 40 acres and a mule that most visualize as the answer to our food problems, but rather large economically feasible farms that are still operated by families. My son has two employees,farming 3500 acres of Rice, Corn, Soybeans and Cotton.I can assure you he works 12-15 hour days, sometimes 7 days a week

0 2017-02-24 12:40:29 - oldroper

We now have enough food to feed the world's population. The pro-GMO movement if successful will force foods that have lower yields, no drought resistance, low nutritional value, and pesticide genes in their make up on an unsuspecting public. The only value GMO crops have in an over populated world is their ability to shorten the life span of mammals by up to 90%. Killing off the population is not the way to go. The studies by GMO companies only cover the first 60 days of the life span of the lab animals, not enough time to show if there are any ill effects when consuming GMO's. No evidence of safety when consuming GMO's as they have not been tested enough. Recent long term studies are now raising serious questions about the safety of GMO foods. Farm animals fed GMO grains have been found to have a carry over of the ill effects of eating the GMO grains into their meat which is purchased by the unsuspecting consumers. The toxic GMO genes are not broken down by the stomach or the intestines of the animals or humans consuming them. Roundup residues in foods are causing birth defects world wide, but especially in farm workers whom handle and plant GMO crops.

0 2017-02-22 20:33:17 - Jimmie

I'll eat oranges with a spinach gene. I'd miss orange juice very much if it vanished.

Where's my food freedom? Don't let fundamentalist kooks keep us from having lemonade in the future, please.

60 2017-02-17 11:12:49 - Mary

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