economic study

Western View: Teosinte and GMO Foods

Taylor HillmanFeatures, Western View

Western View
When someone asks about the safety of GMO Food, ask them if they know about Teosinte. Teosinte is a very early version of corn, and we could say it is the first GMO food in the world. It wasn’t created in a sterile lab, however. It was selectively grown and developed by the Native Americans in central America, long before the Spanish invasion there or the English and French in the north. You can still grow Teosinte as an early hybrid of what is one of the most useful plants ever farmed.

The leaves and stalk of Teosinte looks like a corn-stalk with the typical long, pointed leaves. However, the seed pod is different, as Teosinte does not grow a cob, and the seed kernels are harder than corn. But the seeds are still useful food, and the stalk is sweet like sugar cane.

For thousands of years these small hard seeds of Teosinte were a staple of the Mayan diet, and sometime around 6000 BC the Mayans began cultivating their Teosinte on farms, instead of collecting it in the wild. The Mayan culture grew to be advanced and used sophisticated farming technology, including extensive canals and ditches for irrigation. They applied their technology to mutate Teosinte into a more useful plant.

As they domesticated Teosinte the farmers used selective breeding and gradually it became a radically different plant. They’d save the seeds of those that were larger, tastier, or easier to grind. They’d learned to hybridize and By 4000 BC, Teosinte had become maize, with cobs an inch long.

Thus, Maize was the first genetically modified food. Okay, they didn’t slice the genes and put them back together. What they did took many generations to gain the changes they wanted, but it was the same net effect, just stretched out over hundreds of years. Eventually maize became corn.

Today’s corn has been even more improved, with better yields, better cobs, many more uses. Corn is not alone in being engineered by our ancestors. Almost everything we grow has been hybridized. The famous scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson said it well: “Practically every food you buy in a store for consumption by humans is genetically modified food. There are no wild, seedless watermelons.”

Since early times, people have systematically improved all of the foods we eat. Everything tastes better, is less expensive, grows more efficiently, or is healthier because of it.

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.