Monday, March 10, 2014

Is Seed Chipping Safe?

I recently wrote about the seed chipping we saw at our Monsanto and Pioneer tours in Hawaii this month.

I was asked that question recently and don't know the answer.  Is it cloning?  Is the DNA compromised?

"Scientists have found a way to use a trick of nature to increase crop yields, combat hard-to-kill pests, grow coffee beans with no caffeine and even save the honeybee.
The technology also could help farmers sidestep some of the issues that have fueled opposition to the genetically engineered foods that are now on the market. Critics, however, fear that biotech giants such as Monsanto Co. are rushing the technology to market before some potential side effects are fully understood.
Federal regulators are now assessing the safety of one application of the technology. It would make way for a new generation of pesticides that could, for example, kill agricultural pests with supposed pinpoint accuracy, sparing harmless insects.
“It’s very exciting and offers potential in a lot of ways,” says Bryce Falk, a University of California-Davis scientist who is trying to use the technology to stop the spread of a disease that is devastating U.S. orange groves.
The new technology, called RNAi for short, allows scientists to switch off key genes in plant and animal cells in a way that nature already does. Human cells use RNA molecules, for example, to destroy viruses. The discovery of the process earned two American scientists the Nobel Prize in 2006.
The RNA molecules can be engineered into the plant or animal or applied from the outside via a spray, for example. RNA interference has already been used by plant scientists to tweak soybeans to produce more healthful oils and to engineer virus-resistant food crops. Other future applications include producing coffee beans that are naturally decaffeinated.
Biotech giant Monsanto is employing RNAi to develop new pesticides, including a treatment designed to reverse declines in honeybee populations by using RNAi to control a virus that mites carry into hives. Department of Agriculture scientists have been conducting similar research.
Bees are critical to pollinating a variety of crops, so success in combatting the virus could be a huge public relations coup for the biotech industry, which has struggled to convince critics of the public benefits of genetic engineering.
Monsanto also is using the RNA technology to develop virus-resistant vegetables and to address problems that have resulted from the widespread use of genetically engineered crops."

Do you think seed chipping is safe or do you think it is too much manipulation by man?

Ed Winkle


  1. Seed chipping is not cloning. The trait insertion process is random. Agrobacterium is not controlable. So with the knowledge that certain modification to the genome can cause the plant to grow in different ways the seed companies are generating as many possibilities as they can buy culturing embryos in Agrobacterium with genes from other genomes. The seed chipper chips a piece of the outside of the seed so it can be cultured until there is enough material that it's genome can be mapped. In this way the seed companies are creating a vast catalog of genome variations (varieties). Eventually as knowledge increases it could be that a plant breeder could ask for a specific genome pattern for the base breeding stock in order to target a specific end use. I find it a logical approach.

    So I think the process of genetic modification is muck like a random number generator in a slot machine. The seed chipper is a sorter that catalogs the outcomes. It's the scientists job to figure out which outcome is the jackpot.

    David Seck

  2. If it is random, is there not material brought in that is not pure to the DNA? How does the scientist decide?


  3. "Do you think seed chipping is safe"
    You are mixing up seed chipping and RNAi, Ed. RNAi is the controversial genetic engineering technology discussed in the article you linked, but seed chipping is neither controversial or genetic engineering. It is just chipping seeds, even organic or non-GMO ones, in order to extract enough plant material for a DNA analysis.

    It is now used extensively by the biotech companies to save a year or two in the cycle and check each seed to verify if the gene insertion worked or not. Seed chipping actually replaces the controversial GE technology that consisted in inserting an antibiotic-resistant sequence "marker" in addition to the targeted gene sequence, then drenching the seeds in antibiotic: The seeds that had the successful target gene sequence inserted would also have the antibiotic-resistant sequence and would survive the antibiotic treatment and could then be further reproduced. It seems that Monsanto kept using the antibiotic-resistant markers longer than other biotech companies, who had switched to safer technologies. The technology was said to be controversial because of the potential of transmitting antibiotic resistance traits to animals, bacteria and humans. The controversy was never supported by evidence and the antibiotic used was not even used by human medicine, but it was still an argument found in every anti-GMO book. Seed chipping instantly makes that unsafe argument obsolete.

    See how each soybean is individually chipped here:

    I don't know if RNAi is safe or unsafe either, it certainly has a great potential for such a risk from the way it works, I'll have to look it up at some stage, but it can't be harmful to have the federal regulators or maybe other more independent organizations study it.

  4. Coffee without the caffeine? What is next? Beans without farts?
    Now that is wrong, just plain wrong!
    Might as well drink Sanka...

  5. Thanks, all. I just want to know if the seed I plant is genetically intact. If I wanted to buy manipulated seed, there is plenty for sale.

    No one has been able to explain if "chipped" seed is something I want to plant.


  6. Ed you would never plant chipped seed. The chipped seed is used for parent stock. It's genome is mapped so you have more information about the outcome of a hybrid cross. The seed that is produced for mass production is not chipped.

    David Seck

  7. A lot of NONGMO seed is also chipped and mapped just for those reasons. It speeds up the process for new varieties. It's really not that big of a deal as you want to make it out to be.

  8. come on guys, chipped seeds are not scary.
    A tiny part of the seed gets chipped off just to analyze what's in the seed. The "chip" is not cultured or anything, its just ground up, DNA gets isolated so you can actually test whats in it, just think about CSI (who's your daddy), or any other genetic test (do I carry a breast-cancer gene that lurks around in my family yes or no). Plant breeders usually test hundreds of genes from the sampled material (seed in this case) to see which one is the best. Instead of a drop of blood or a swab of mucus, they use a chip of a seed.
    The remainder of the seed, by definition, germinates and grows just fine and is no different than a non-chipped seed, otherwise they wouldn't do it.
    Just like you or your baby are still exactly the same if a drop of blood, a drop of amniotic fluid, etc is taken from you.