The world’s population is predicted by the UN to reach seven billion by 2013.1 A proposed solution to increase food production has been the introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops, which has faced strong opposition. A group of investigators in the USA2 recently published a study indicating that environmental changes have a greater impact than genetic modifications on the metabolome of crop plants
Dr V.M. Asiago told The Column: “As the population continues to grow, we need to use all the tools available to ensure there is enough food to meet global demand. GM crops are expected to play a critical role in meeting this need. GM crops have been examined for safety for more than 20 years now using targeted assays. Before metabolomics can be used for safety assessments of crops developed using biotechnology, it is necessary to understand the biological variation of metabolites in non-GM crops as a result of a different environment and genetic background.”
The investigators collected 654 grain samples and 695 forage samples from several sites in the USA and Canada, and measured the levels of 156 metabolites in grain and 185 in forage using gas chromatography (GC) coupled to time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOF-MS). Multivariate statistics were used to identify a 2% change in the metabolome in non-genetically modified maize, whereas a change in location introduced a 50% change in the metabolome. This indicated that genetic modification had a minor effect on the metabolome when compared to the changes induced by factors of the natural environment.
1. United Nations Information Service, (Accessed: 5th of November: www.unis.unvienna.org/unis/pressrels/2005/pop925.html).
2. V M. Asiago et al., Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, DOI: 10.1021/f303873a (2012).