As mainstream media in the US continue to downplay concerns about the safety of genetically modified foods, bloggers, independent news providers and social media groups continue to voice concerns in and beyond the United States. Debate centers around the dietary and ecological safety of genetically modified organisms (hence “G-M-O’s”) in our food system.
|Figure 1. Endophytic microbes like these blue staining
fungi found in micropropagated
plants raise new concerns for GMO safety.
|Figure 2. Originally published in Sustainable agroecosystems in climate change mitigation, this image summarizes the nutrient cycling and plant protection features offered by a diverse and properly structured microbiome. Plants that have been stripped of their microbial diversity are nutrient deficient, intolerant of climatic extremes, and prone to pests and disease.
When seeds are germinated to produce plants in-vitro (in sterile containers like test tubes) prior to engineering, they must be surface disinfested to remove those microbes which might grow quickly in test-tubes and compete with the plant for nutrients. In the laboratory, plants are typically disinfested with bleach, alcohols, or other antiseptic agents and maintained in an aspetic environment. Then they are exposed to growth regulators, chemically defined growth media, and artificial light. Many microbial species present on and in the plant when it is exposed to these treatments are permanently eliminated. Each microbe may have thousands of genes, and some of these have co-evolved with the host plant. Removing these microbes in order to insert a single gene may produce germplasms that can be patented and sold for a premium price, and indeed, with the exception of the inserted gene, these plants are not being treated differently from many transplants that are generated for large farms today. But the fact is, plants raised in vitro, with or without being subjected to genetic engineering, are plants that have been stripped of rich microbial communities containing entire metagenomes (millions to billions of genes) that empower native plants in natural habitats to withstand environmental assault. Such plants will always require more inputs to sustain them than plants whose microbiomes have been preserved.
At End-O-Fite Enterprises LLC, we are working with large and small growers to restore microbiomes to crops and soils. Growers utilizing our protocols are seeing input costs decline and profits increase, since they obtain similar or higher yields, and receive higher premiums for the resulting organic crops. Other consultants are reporting similar results.
In conclusion, GMO safety is heavily debated because many aspects of GMO safety have simply not been considered by regulatory authorities. Breakthroughs in metagenomics and endophyte ecology are revealing new dynamics that suggest GMO’s cannot be contained, and possibly do more to reduce plant productivity than to increase it. As news of the improved yields attainable in bioactive soils spreads, is my personal belief that farming practices rooted in microbial ecology and soil biology will soon make GMO’s and the debates surrounding their safety obsolete.