gmo sweet potatoes

Natural GMO – sweet potatoes | Day 254

Occasionally, when people who don’t know what they’re doing make social media content, hilarity ensues.

Here’s a good one for you.

That is, of course, Amanita muscaria, widely recognised as a poisonous (albeit also hallucinogenic) mushroom. In Latvia, where wild mushrooming is a national pastime, you learn to steer clear from it at a very early age. The people who choose to ingest it do so for its psychoactive qualities, but it’s most certainly not food.

Of course, you don’t need to know this if you are a certified holistic nutritionist.

Oh, wait.

There is nothing wrong with striving to eat healthily and informing people about the detrimental effects of hidden sugar in highly processed foods, or creating and sharing recipes that inspire people to cook and eat wonderful meals at home. Unfortunately, the good sometimes comes with the woo.

It is often people who make uninformed “inspirational quote” pictures like this who also advocate against genetically modified foods. Even though their mission is to provide reliable information on health foods without bias, on the Naked Label blog every reference to GMOs is a negative one, spouting the usual arguments along the lines of GMOs “have not been properly tested on humans and several studies have shown there is reason to question the safety of us eating them.” This is simply not true, as I’ve explained on this blog before.

And sometimes the methods humans use to create genetically modified foods are hardly different from what nature has used itself. A lovely example of that is a recent study published in PNAS which demonstrated that sweet potatoes, which were domesticated some 8,000-10,000 years ago in South America, contain DNA from bacteria.

Agrobacterium infect plants, and as they do so, they are able to transfer bits of their DNA (known as transfer DNA or T-DNA) into the genome of the plant, where it interferes with normal growth. This ability to hijack the plant’s genome is why plant geneticists have been using these bacteria to help in the process of creating transgenic plants – also known as GMOs.

As John Timmer explains over at Ars Technica:

While studying the RNA made in sweet potato cells, researchers found a collection of bacterial genes. Tracing them back to the DNA, they found the Agrobacterium T-DNA, along with a handful of genes from the bacteria. Further examination revealed a second cluster of genes, indicating that this natural transgenic process has happened at least twice in this lineage.

One of these two clusters of genes was found in a number of cultivated strains, as well as a handful of their wild relatives. The second was absent in the wild relatives but present in every cultivated strain of sweet potato they looked in. Thus, every sweet potato plant contains foreign genes obtained through a process similar to that used to create GMO foods.

Sure, nature does a good job producing delicious foods. Just look at sweet potato in all its transgenic glory! It’s a natural GMO if we’ve ever seen one. I wonder what holistic nutritionists are going to do with that bit of info.

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