GMOs: A Look at the Seedless Grape

GMO is an acronym for Genetically Modified Organism – an organism whose genetic material has been altered by biotechnology techniques. It seems a couple of the biggest concerns with GMO foods are that these new organisms are “not natural” and questioning safety for consumption. What is interesting is that humans have been consuming “not natural” organisms for more than a century.

Gregor Mendel is widely recognized as the first person to use cross breeding techniques to develop new and “unnatural” pea hybrids. That was back in the mid 1800s!

The development of seedless grapes may actually date back to Roman times, but in modern times the first seedless table grape we can track was developed by William Thompson during the period from 1875 to 1900.

Organic or not, all seedless grapes are “unnatural”. Although a rare mutant plant could be natural, the seedless form is not naturally occurring. The process of growing seedless grapes uses a form of asexual reproduction. The new plant is essentially a genetic clone of the original parent plant which requires manual manipulation with the plants genetic material.

Maybe that mutant seedless grape plant could reproduce naturally? While this is a good thought, it’s not possible because the natural process for grape plant reproduction is through seed. The only way for a mutant seedless grape plant to reproduce is through the unnatural (for the grape plant) and manual asexual reproduction process.

How many of us have been eating seedless grapes our entire lives without a second thought as to how it could have been produced or the safety of consuming?

If we, as consumers, demanded naturally occurring seedless grapes we would essentially be forgoing the luxury of walking into our local grocery stores and buying them. The rare mutant plants without seeds certainly would not be nearly enough to supply the country’s grocery stores. Instead we would be spitting seeds from every grape we ate.

Cross breeding and manipulating plant genetic material can be a good thing! I’m sure thankful for seedless grapes, especially when I get home from the grocery store and discover the bag I picked up isn’t. Ugh!

You’ve probably heard the term “hybrid vigor” indicating the improved and superior qualities arising from crossbreeding of genetically different plants or animals. In the same way that Mendel’s peas and Thompson’s grapes outperformed their parent crops and/or had the capability to meet a demand segment, so are the hybrid seeds developed for agricultural production today.

The difference is that today we have the biotechnology available to speed up this process so that new hybrids with advanced genetic material can be developed quicker instead of through millions of test trails, hours of challenging manual labor, and numerous growing seasons.

In my opinion, the biotechnology that allows efficient and timely development of GMO seeds used in production agriculture today is the reason we have an abundant and affordable food supply that is no less safe than seedless grapes.

Brett and Krista Swanson

About Krista

Brett and Krista are both the fifth generation in their families to farm. They farm with Brett’s parents and family and live on the farm near Oneida, Illinois, with their three daughters: Bianca, Karina, and Susana, and one son: Brock.

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