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Mar 10 2013

OPEN vs. HYBRID PLANTS vs. GMO (or GE) PLANTS, by Nick Guthrie

One of our goals in CVGSS is to share vegetable seeds among us which breed “true”, that is, will go from seed-to-plant-to-seed giving reliable production of the same features for planted generations to come. In the plants coming from the seeds in any one CVCGSS envelope, there will be small but acceptable variations in size of fruit, resistance to disease, maturation date and so on. These small variations often give the plants protection against climate variations and new diseases. The same is true of a couple of parents who have several children between them.

Nick standing in front of a scarlet runner bean covered arch

OPEN POLLINATED plants are those which can freely interbreed with others from the same seed package. They will reliably produce plants which are very similar to the parents one generation after another. These plants are said to breed “true to type”, though they may show very small insignificant differences.

HYBRID plants and the seeds which produce them are from intentional crosses in which two plants of the same species but of different varieties .eg. two types of tomato, are manually crossed. Often the offspring will not breed true to type, so one is obliged to buy new seeds every succeeding year if it is supremely important to get the identical crop to the first year. This ties the grower to the seed company year after year.

Let’s consider carnations plants. If we cross a white flowered plant with a red flowered plant all the offspring will be pink. If pinkness is of paramount importance, then new hybrid seeds must again be bought next year to keep that color. (If we had instead kept and planted the seeds from the initial pink flowers, we would get a crop of some whites, some reds and some pinks.) This may remind you of your grade 10 science class genetics.

GM (genetically modified or GE genetically engineered) plants are ones which have had genes from unrelated organisms “shot” in to them with the intent of adding a new inheritable quality due to the “new” genes. A recent example was to put fish genes into tomatoes so as to confer long shelf life to the tomato. This particular experiment ended in failure a few years ago. In the grocery store now are canola oil, papayas, soy, and corn (this last one is grown locally by some dairy farmers) with others soon to follow. This is not the place to delve into all the difficulties, but suffice to say; the foods so produced have in several cases caused severe medical difficulties for the animals (including humans) eating them as well as environmental problems. Furthermore, the promises of increased yields and cheaper costs to the farmers have not panned out. Google the topic and look for articles from Don Huber, soil expert.

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