A GMO Rose By Any Other Name?

An interesting article in today’s New York Times on how some companies are circumventing regulatory barriers in developing new plant varieties by using “genetic editing” rather than “genetic engineering,” which is often referred to as GMO. The difference? Not the outcome (a plant that’s DNA is changed to express different traits); just the way in which the genetic change is produced. From the article (emphasis added):

Regulators around the world are now grappling with whether these techniques are even considered genetic engineering and how, if at all, they should be regulated.


“The technology is always one step ahead of the regulators,” said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, head of biotechnology research at Syngenta, a seed and agricultural chemical company.

The problem stems largely from defining (and regulating) genetically modified plants not based on the fact that they are genetically modified, but based on the technological process by which they are modified. Humans have been manipulating plant genes for millennia; more recently using (a growing number of) technologies in the lab rather than long, drawn-out, and less-precise processes in the field. That poses a problem for regulators and critics who need to carefully circumscribe what kind of genetic modifications are, and aren’t, considered acceptable.

Meanwhile, the real question is whether a (genetically modified) rose by any other name (or technology) would still smell as sweet.