Basic textbook for understanding GMO?
January 14, 2008 2:38 AM   Subscribe

Is there a concise, up-to-date textbook on biotechnology and the techniques for genetic modification of plant varieties, which will give me enough knowledge to talk to an expert on the subject?

I need to know the vocabularly, a general notion of what is possible and how it is done and a general notion of the risks involved are evaluated.
posted by YouRebelScum to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First, don't use the term GMO. In my experience it is mainly used in advocacy rather than science.
posted by grouse at 3:06 AM on January 14, 2008

And grouse is right, the term you're looking for is transgenic. Then, google becomes much friendlier.
posted by kisch mokusch at 4:27 AM on January 14, 2008

posted by kisch mokusch at 4:28 AM on January 14, 2008

Response by poster: Useful, thanks. Is there one book/source that you would pluck from the many as a from-the-beginning overview?
posted by YouRebelScum at 4:39 AM on January 14, 2008

I don't really know the field, so I'm not really sure (better answerers should be arriving shortly).

I had a quick look by google anyway. A lot of the books on that list were written as collections of protocols for scientists, which is most definitely not what you want (beware of the term "reviews methodologies").

Failing a good answer, I would suggest looking at the previews in Google Book Search and seeing whether the content matches expectations.

Sorry I can't be of more help.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:25 AM on January 14, 2008

It's difficult to recommend a book without knowing where you're starting. Understanding genetics techniques hinges on understanding cellular biology and, in this case, the basics of plant reproduction.

Arabidopsis thaliana is a very important organism in plant genetics as well as genetics in general. If you look closely at this little plant's story, it will start you on a good foundation.

Some key terminology, extracted from

RNA extraction
cDNA synthesis
in planta transformaton
in situ hybridization
inverse polymerase chain reaction
mRNA isolation
microarray slide preparation
molecular mapping
organelle isolation
phage DNA extraction
genomic DNA extraction
biochemical trait assay
plant growth method
plant growth assay

plasmid DNA extraction
plant transformation
polymerase chain reaction
probe labeling
protoplast isolation
reagent preparation
root growth assay
seed sterilization
tissue culture
tissue printing
RNA hybridization

I've boldfaced the terms that look, to me (not a plant biologist), like they're specific to plant genetics research. The rest seem to be more general, multicellular organism genetics techniques that plant geneticists can use.

In your shoes, I'd go to the nearest research library and look for biology books to review plant physiology and general genetics. Then I'd look for books similar to Principles of Plant Genetics and Breeding (G. Acquaah) and Plant Biotechnology: The Genetic Manipulation of Plants (Slater, Scott, Fowler), and look up the terms listed above.
posted by zennie at 5:58 AM on January 14, 2008

Genetically Modified Crops: Their Development, Uses and Risks (Liang and Skinner) also looks pretty good for your purposes.
posted by zennie at 6:15 AM on January 14, 2008

Response by poster: Zennie, thanks for the tips - in answer to your question I'm starting from a position of complete ignorance, knowing neither about cellular biology nor plant reproduction.
posted by YouRebelScum at 6:32 AM on January 14, 2008

I am a technician in a plant genetics lab and often genetically modify varieties of Arabidopsis.

I actually think you can use "GM" without too much worry. If you have a modified plant on your desk, you'd refer to it as "a transgenic plant" or "a transgenic line" or just "a transgenic", but the overall field itself is safely called GM. Maybe there are experts out there who would be offended or upset by this use, but I would call them ninnies. "Frankenfoods" is an example of a loaded word used in advocacy.

The Liang book from the very helpful above links seem like it explains the underlying science to a layperson. And it's recent, which is one of the bigger things to keep in mind. If you're considering a source more than 5 years ago it may be totally obsolete by now. (Although I suppose the history of GM is just as interesting as an update)

To me, the wiki page linked to above as "plant transformation" had a lot of pretty useful information. If you can digest that page you may be able to learn all you need from wiki.
posted by joemax at 3:05 PM on January 14, 2008

joemax: I was talking about "GMO," not "GM."
posted by grouse at 3:08 PM on January 14, 2008

Response by poster: Great - thanks very much for the links and advice. Off I go to the library...
posted by YouRebelScum at 5:31 AM on January 15, 2008

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