We sometimes hear from customers concerned that the word "Hybrid" is a synonym for GMO. This is not true, but the distinctions can be confusing. Here's a quick summary of the differences among selection, hybridization, and genetic engineering:
Selection is the process that farmers have been following for thousands of years to choose the most desirable characteristics in their food crops and ornamental plants. For instance, if several corn plants in a field produce larger, tastier, or more abundant fruit, farmers will save seeds from those particular plants. Similarly, if some plants are unsatisfactory, farmers will not save their seed if they can possibly help it. The idea is that over time, the beneficial characteristics -- the traits that made certain plants more productive, flavorful, or vigorous -- will predominate, improving the overall quality of the crops year by year. Selection has been going on since man began to cultivate plants.
Hybridization is essentially a more efficient form of selection. Instead of merely saving seed and hoping that over time the good characteristics will dominate, professional growers (and many home gardeners) will deliberately pollinate plants with desirable characteristics. Often the pollen parent is chosen for one favorable trait (such as big yields), while the seed parent is chosen for another (such as superb flavor). The resulting plant has the best of both.
You will often read about hybridized vs. open-pollinated plants. Hybridized plants will rarely come true from seed. Because they have been selected for specific traits, their seeds may not have equal amounts of the good traits from both parents. So if you save their seed and then sow it, the plant it produces may not look or act exactly like its parent. Open-pollinated plants, on the other hand, have not been professionally selected, and will come true from seed. Most plants that simply have a genus and a species, with no variety name, will be open-pollinated and will come true from seed.
A genetically-modified organism (GMO) is produced through an entirely different process. Genetically-modified plants are created in laboratories and involve actually adding genes of other organisms -- plant, animals, bacterial, and even viral -- into the structure of the plant. These are genetic changes that would never occur in nature, even over thousands of years of selection. Tampering with the genetic structure of an organism to introduce desirable traits is a risky and still largely unproven enterprise, and we will have nothing to do with it at Park Seed.
Want more information about selection, hybridization, and GMO? Visit nongmoproject.org for the latest news and a more detailed discussion of this issue.