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A ground-breaking approach
pioneered by Fumagalli

25 March 2015

Genetic crossbreeding and genetic improvement: state-of-the-art versions of ancient processes

How human activity influences genetic selection

The development of genetic research, which aims to understand the mechanisms regulating the characteristics of life, is accompanied by mistrust regarding their application in crop and livestock farming. It is easy to forget, though, that “laboratory genetics” is just another iteration of a process that began between 12,000 and 14,000 years ago, when people started using “genetic improvement” in farming.

In ancient Mesopotamia farmers cross-bred wheat, artificially selecting varieties with compact ears in order to reduce the dispersion of the grains, facilitate harvesting and improve yield. And even the book of Genesis in the bible describes how Jacob implemented a process of genetic improvement: “Then Jacob took fresh sticks of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white of the sticks. He set the sticks that he had peeled in front of the flocks in the troughs, that is, the watering places, where the flocks came to drink. And since they bred when they came to drink, the flocks bred in front of the sticks and so the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted.”

While many people are worried about the effects of genetic manipulation in food, they are often unaware of advantages of genetic improvement (as opposed to genetic mutation) in terms of food safety and quality.

It has always been important for humans to select stronger, healthier species that need less chemical treatment, are more resilient to drought and harsh climatic conditions, and produce greater yields, but the matter is now more urgent than ever as the world’s population swells, placing ever-growing pressure on the world’s food sources.

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