The Science

“Genetically Modified” is defined as an organism, with the exception of human beings, in which genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.

This Initiative would prohibit the propagation and growth of genetically modified organism and would have no effect on growing or propagating any organism that is the product of mating or natural recombination. Mating and natural recombination include any way in which organisms exchange genes or genetic material naturally, even if humans are involved in the exchange. The human role in plant and animal mating and natural recombination is ancient and we have a rich history of crop breeding and improvement to draw upon without resorting to new biotechnology. These natural methods include selection of open pollinated crops; controlled crosses in animals and plants for specific traits (selective breeding); hybridization between different varieties or breeds of plants and animals within the same species; hybridization between different species of animal or plant through natural means or with the use of artificial insemination and techniques to overcome barriers to pollination; embryo transplants within the same species of animals; grafting different varieties or species of plants to one another using either field, bench or micro-propagation techniques; and any other technique that utilizes the natural mechanisms of gene exchange in animals, plant or other organism even if humans facilitate the process.

Some other allowable practices are:

Conjugation: the natural exchange of genetic material between bacteria (it is the bacterial equivalent of mating). Conjugation can already occur across species and kingdom boundaries.

Fermentation: in this context, the growing of yeasts.

Hybridization: as mentioned above, is crossing either unrelated inbred lines or crossing compatible species. Most of the techniques used to overcome barriers to inter-species crosses are allowable because they have natural equivalents. This includes transferring pollen by hand, removing anthers from flowers and pollinating flowers before they are fully mature.

In vitro fertilization: the mixing of germ cells (sperm and egg, pollen and ovule or spores) in an artificial situation (“in vitro” means “in glass”). It is used primarily within the same species, but can be used to overcome barriers to inter-species crosses within related species.

Tissue culture: growing cells in artificial media. As a technique this does not involve the transfer of any genetic material. It can be used to produce gene products (such as enzymes, proteins, antibodies, vaccines), to diagnose diseases or to grow new organisms (such as micro-propagation of plants or fungi).

The initiative prohibits the use of laboratory techniques to create combinations that would not occur naturally using artificial methods. The most common of these methods is recombinant DNA technology in which DNA is artificially added to the genome of an organism or cell. This DNA can be from the same organism or cell or from another individual or species. It can include gene deletion, in which a gene is removed or inactivated by removing essential portions of its sequence, its promoter or the entire gene; and gene doubling, in which extra copies of a gene are inserted to make it produce more gene products (proteins and enzymes); as well as inserting DNA from another species. All of these are accomplished using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), restriction digests (where enzymes cut DNA at specific sequences), ligation (in which enzymes bind pieces of DNA back together and in which a new arrangement or combination can be made), and transformation (in which the DNA is introduced into the host and incorporated into its genome).

Transformation is done using either particle bombardment—miniscule gold particles are coated with the DNA and shot into the cells using compressed gasses—or Agrobacterium-mediated transformation in which the gene is inserted into the host by first ligating it into a plasmid (a small circle of DNA) that is transformed into a bacteria that can infect plants (this transformation is done by making the bacterial cell walls permeable with chemicals or electricity). The bacteria then inserts the gene or genetic material into the plant it infects.

The modified plants are then grown from the transformed plant cells either by transforming the tissues that produce seeds and screening the seeds or using tissue culture techniques (also known as micropropagation) in which an entire plant can be grown from a small number of cells or a single cell. Modified plants can then be grown and bred using conventional methods. Because transformation is not 100% most modified plants contain some type of marker or selectable marker to identify those that have been successfully transformed. These markers can include antibiotic resistance and/or fluorescent proteins.

Bacteria, yeasts, animals and viruses can all be genetically modified and there are additional transformation techniques used for these organisms (though particle bombardment is also used in animal tissues).

Here are some examples of activities in which you do NOT “propagate, cultivate, raise or grow genetically modified organisms”

  • Feeding your animals fodder made from genetically modified plants.
  • Taking medications made from genetically modified organisms.
  • Eating genetically modified food.
  • Growing hybrid flowers, vegetables or grains.
  • Getting a medical diagnostic procedure that involves antibodies produced from genetically modified organisms.

Here are some examples of activities that would be prohibited under the initiative:

  • Growing Roundup Ready® crop plants.
  • Growing Golden Rice.
  • Growing plants that have been hybridized through conventional methods with genetically modified plants.
  • Using genetically modified poplars for bioremediation.
  • Releasing modified research bacteria, nematodes or other organisms into the environment.

Analysis provided by Madrona Murphy
Kwiáht genetic technician