The Genetics of Wheat Have Been Changed

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Editor’s Note: While the wheat lobby likes to insist wheat has not been genetically modified, that is a semantic smokescreen based on the official scientific definition of genetic modification. The genetics of wheat have been extensively messed with ever since at least the 50s, as you will read below. The wheat people are eating today bares no resemblance to its ancestors from even a few decades ago.

How many more people will have to go gluten-free to prove messing with the food is messing us up?

Wheat Belly Blog
March 21, 2012

“Wheat is not genetically-modified.”
Dr. Glenn Gaesser of the Grain Foods Foundation recently offered this “counterargument” on a TV interview I did. This statement has also cropped up a number of times in various articles and reports that aim to counter the claims I am making, suggesting that it is part of a concerted, planned defense.

They are correct: Wheat is not genetically-modified. In the language of geneticists, “genetic modification” or genetic engineering refers to the use of gene-splicing technology to insert or remove a gene. While wheat has indeed been extensively genetically-modified in laboratory settings, no genetically-modified strain of wheat is on the open market. And I never said it was.

But that does not mean that the genetics of wheat have not been changed. Its genetics, in fact, have been extensively changed using techniques that include hybridization, repeating backcrossing (to winnow out specific characteristics like short height or seed head size), embryo rescue (to rescue otherwise fatal mutations), and chemical, gamma ray, and x-ray mutagenesis (induction of mutations, used for instance to create the popular Clearfield strain of wheat that is herbicide-resistant). These techniques, as any geneticist will tell you, are far less predictable, less controllable . . . far worse than the act of inserting or removing just one gene. But that is conveniently left out of the sound bites that come from the Wheat Lobby.

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