The tuberous root of the sweet potato is caused by genes obtained from a soil bacteria.

The first transgenic organism was not produced by a megacorporation. It was created by Mother Nature a long time ago. This phenomenon, in which an organism integrates genetic material from another organism of which it is not the descendant, is called horizontal gene transfer… and it’s been going on for millions of years.

The sweet potato is an example.

A study recently published by scientists from Ghent University and the International Potato Center (The genome of cultivated sweet potato contains Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes) revealed that genome of the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) contains DNA sequences from a common gall-producing soil bacterium, Agrobacterium, and that the plant actively expresses these genes.

Agrobacterium normally produces galls like this one seen on a forsythia.

Moreover, this transfer is perhaps even at the very origin of the sweet potato’s domestication. The absorption of the microbe’s genes caused the roots of wild ipomoeas to swell up, believes virologist Jan Kreuze, the study’s chief researcher, converting their normally thin roots of little interest to humans into thick tuberous roots full of stored carbohydrates. Native Amerindians apparently discovered the transgenic plants about 8,000 years ago and began to cultivate them, creating by selection varieties with increasingly thick and sweet roots containing less and less fiber: the sweet potatoes that we know today

“People have been eating a GMO for thousands of years without knowing it,” concludes Kreuze.20170216b

5 comments on “The Sweet Potato is Transgenic

  1. Thanks Larry, it is better….., but I work with scientists every day. When scientists are quoted like this it has to be noted that they often “dumb down” their comments so that the greater masses can understand. I believe the scientific definition of GMO should be upheld – just as in the same way that a Latin name for a plant leads to no confusion about what is being talked about. Thanks Larry – and happy gardening to all!

  2. Norma misrepresented my comments – probably unintentionally. What I believe (and is scientifically correct) is that the term GMO should be saved for plants that have had their genetics changed in a man made regulated environment. I never disputed the fact that genetic transfer can take place naturally, but there are much better terms for it than GMO. You have taken ONE line from an expert and posted it, and I take issue with that. EXPERTS often will call these things GMO (probably you and I have no right to) only so that they can be viewed by the greater public with less fear. So yes, sweet potato’s went through a form of mutation – evolution – physical wounding which resulted in a transfer of genetic material.

    • Thank you for that precision. While I’m not entirely in agreement with you about the term GMO, perhaps my text came out too startling, so I’ve modified it using the term transgenic, which I’m sure you would agree would be appropriate in this case. (At least I hope so.) However, I did keep the quote from Jan Kreuze, who obviously doesn’t agree with you on the definition of an OGM. I can’t modify a direct quote, after all.
      Of course, the thought behind this was to make people think. (It certainly made me think!) I tried not to show any partiality. I hope you better like the updated version.

  3. I posted this on NSAGC Facebook page and a man who works at Kentville Research Station said this was incorrect that this was a result of plant evolution then plant selection. I wish you could answer his statement as I always enjoy your posts. facebook.com/groups /nsagc.

    • Hi: I stick by my text: there is no doubt sweet potatoes have incorporated Agrobacterium genes. As for the results of this, I quoted the researcher, so those are his opinions. Of course, and I didn’t go into this as it gets too complicated, but there are many examples of horizontal gene transfert, meaning that there are in fact very many natural GMOs both in wild and cultivated plants and indeed in animals. Bye… and thanks for checking!

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