Letter: Engineered crops

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Sir: Genetically unengineered plants cause cancer, and some contain genes for making deadly poisons, scientists admitted yesterday. A spokesman agreed that deadly "tobacco" plants, responsible for countless deaths from lung cancer, are genetically unengineered. I can reveal that the toxins in deadly nightshade, death cap fungi and puff adder venom are produced by unengineered genes. Science proves! Run for your lives!

All plants, and all animals including humans, are genetically modified. That is what evolution means. They are genetically modified by natural selection of random mutations and recombinations. Some, such as maize, wheat, cabbages and roses are additionally modified by domestic breeding. And some are modified by engineered mutation or recombination.

Any of these three kinds of genetic modification can have desirable or undesirable consequences, for they all end up doing exactly the same thing: changing genomes. Some newspapers bear a heavy responsibility for whipping up ignorant hysteria over scientific matters.


Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science

University Museum