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N Biotechnol. 2010 Nov 30;27(5):517-21. doi: 10.1016/j.nbt.2010.05.007. Epub 2010 May 22.

Genetic engineering compared to natural genetic variations.

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Biozentrum, University of Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 50-70, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland.


By comparing strategies of genetic alterations introduced in genetic engineering with spontaneously occurring genetic variation, we have come to conclude that both processes depend on several distinct and specific molecular mechanisms. These mechanisms can be attributed, with regard to their evolutionary impact, to three different strategies of genetic variation. These are local nucleotide sequence changes, intragenomic rearrangement of DNA segments and the acquisition of a foreign DNA segment by horizontal gene transfer. Both the strategies followed in genetic engineering and the amounts of DNA sequences thereby involved are identical to, or at least very comparable with, those involved in natural genetic variation. Therefore, conjectural risks of genetic engineering must be of the same order as those for natural biological evolution and for conventional breeding methods. These risks are known to be quite low. There is no scientific reason to assume special long-term risks for GM crops. For future agricultural developments, a road map is designed that can be expected to lead, by a combination of genetic engineering and conventional plant breeding, to crops that can insure food security and eliminate malnutrition and hunger for the entire human population on our planet. Public-private partnerships should be formed with the mission to reach the set goals in the coming decades.

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