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Transgenic aphids

"Transgenic" is the NPOV term we use to describe genetically engineered crops that have genes from other species. Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) crops with a bacterial gene for an insect-killing toxin are a well-known example. If you worry about whether such crops are "natural", then the latest example of natural gene transfer among species -- fungus to aphid, in this case -- might be of interest. The paper was published in Science, by Nancy Moran and Tyler Jarvik. Ed Yong has a clear explanation.

My book will argue that we should look to nature for ideas and information to improve agriculture, but not in a simple-minded, "nature-is-perfect" way. If aphids have been transgenic for many generations, that shows that transgenes don't necessarily have severe negative long-term effects on the recipient species. And what about the hypothesis that humans got a key brain-development gene from Neanderthals, as claimed in a 2008 paper in Trends in Genetics (vol.24, p.19)? (I read about this in Microscosm, Carl Zimmer's interesting book on E. coli.) But a few positive examples don't disprove the possibility of negative effects in other cases.


Not to mention that most of our genetic engineering relies on Agrobacterium, which has been transforming our walnuts, grapes and raspberries on its own as long as we've been eating them.

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