Imagine a banana. The familiar yellow, seedless shape pops to mind, but that’s only how domesticated bananas look like. Before we “molded” and modified the plant, it looked completely different – as you can see below.
The first bananas we know of were cultivated in Papua New Guinea, stocky and filled with seeds. By contrast, today’s bananas are smooth on the inside and seedless. Genetic engineering spurs disagreement, but the truth is humans have been tweaking the genome of plants for thousands of years; we just did it subtly. Modern bananas came from two wild varieties, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana; they’re a hybrid and a seedless one at that but you don’t hear many complaints about that.
But if you think that’s a big change, have a look at how carrots used to look like:
Carrots underwent dramatic changes since their early days. They were initially purple or white-ish, with the massive changes being planned by the Dutch. At the end of the 16th century, Dutch growers started to do some research and testing, to improve the quality of the vegetables.
They took mutant strains of purple carrots as well as yellow and white ones and started experimenting. Gradually, after numerous generations, they got to the sweet variety we see today, which was also more resistant and better tasting than their purple rivals. Speaking about purple… who here knows how eggplants look like? No, no – I mean real, non-domesticated eggplants.
Wild eggplants came in a variety of shapes and colors, from blue to yellow – and some being round like a tomato, not prolonged. The first known written record of the plant is found in Qimin Yaoshu , an ancient Chinese agricultural treatise completed in 544. The plant was actually unrecorded in England and much of Europe. A book on agriculture by Ibn Al-Awwam in 12th century Arabic Spain described how to grow aubergines – though in his time, the plant looked very different.
But still, you could see how the two plants, before and after the modification, are actually similar. The same couldn’t be said about corn. Corn has changed so much that it’s basically unrecognizable.
This is what corned looked like, 10,000 years ago when it was growing in the plains of Mexico. Today, it is 1,000 times larger and contains 4 times more sugar than it did back then. Visually, the difference is also striking.
Peaches and watermelon haven’t changed so much that you wouldn’t recognize them, but the modern versions are much “fleshier”. For watermelons, humans have grown and manipulated them up to the point where the red fleshy interior makes up most of the volume.
Compare that to this 17th-century painting by Giovanni Stanchi – in only four centuries, we’ve changed the plant dramatically. The same can be said for peaches. This is how peaches used to look like, before humans meddled in:
Small, and with a pretty complex taste; they looked more like sour cherries, and tasted a bit like them too. Mostly sweet, but also sour and just a bit salty. Not bad, but modern peaches… they’re so much more.
After centuries of selective breeding, peaches are now 64 times larger, 27 percent juicier, and 4 percent sweeter.
These are not just cherry-picked examples – many of the veggies and fruits we enjoy today have been bred and engineered for centuries. So when someone tells you that we shouldn’t eat genetically engineered plants, tell him that we already are – for many years.