Mother Nature’s genetic engineering? Sweet potato naturally ‘modified,’ researchers say

Reuters / Jason Reed
Sweet potatoes contain 'foreign' DNA sequences, leading researchers to conclude they are naturally 'genetically modified.'

Researchers at the University of Ghent and the International Potato Institute reported finding DNA sequences of Agrobacterium in the entire sweet potato DNA-code, which, they said, demonstrated a kind of natural genetically modified organism (GMO) -- as opposed to a human-made GMO.

“The sequences appeared to be present in each of the 291 tested sweet potato cultivars and even in some wild related species,” the researchers said Tuesday.

READ MORE: FDA approves GMO apples, potatoes that don’t bruise or brown as being safe to eat

“Different research methods confirmed the same conclusion: the specific sequences are not due to contamination, but they are part of the sweet potato genome.”

Human-engineered GMO crops and ingredients have been consumed in the US for more than two decades. Large amounts of US-produced corn, soybeans, and canola are genetically engineered. As much as 75 percent of processed food made in the US contains GMO ingredients.

READ MORE: Monsanto settles 7 lawsuits after 2013 GMO-wheat scare

Amid a wave of concern over GMO foods sweeping through the US -- not to mention around the world -- agricultural giants lobbying against GMO-labeling measures have spent over $100 million fighting the proposals nationwide, a sum certain to increase with each passing year as the ‘right to know’ movement gains steam.

Opponents of GMO labeling involve major retailers and agribusiness firms that depend on domination of the food supply. Their major argument is that GMO foods, especially corn and soy, have been consumed by Americans for around 20 years and have not been shown to have an impact on human health in that time.

READ MORE: Monsanto agrochemicals cause genetic damage in soybean workers – study

While some supporters of GMO labeling concede that human health may not be affected by the direct consumption of GMOs, other worries have pushed the pro-labeling contingent, some of whom are completely anti-GMO, to call for more transparency from the food industry.

Companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical market their own patented seeds that, given their genetic modification, can be doused with biocides to kill pests and weeds. This can jeopardize long-term health of the soil and the necessary biodiversity of a local environment that allows for natural pollination and, thus, food security.

The sweet potato study was published on the website of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.