Wednesday was the birthday of Gregor Mendel, who you may remember from biology class as the 19th-century monk whose experiments with plant hybridization formed the foundation of the modern study of genetics. At The Washington Post, Alexandra Peti compares the noncontroversial work of Mendel with today’s biotechnology and the notion of “unmodified” crops. While there are obvious differences between the techniques of then and now, the idea of genetic manipulation is hardly new.

She writes:

Europe is moving forward with plans to ban genetically modified foods. Never mind that hardy GM crops could help combat famine around the world. Greenpeace disapproves. Such crops might be invasive! They might destroy local species diversity!

This is also true of all kinds of non-GM crops. If such a thing exists. The biggest difference between many GM crops and their less evolved counterparts is that the GM crops have gotten better faster.

Millennia before Mendel began messing around with the pea plants, we had genetically modified foods. Our cave ancestors urged the robust wheats to pollinate each other, sometimes sitting there for hours near the wheat field offering them verbal encouragement and playing the cave equivalent of Barry White music. It just took a while. …

Genetic modification has already accomplished fascinating things, and it will likely result in still more, unless Europe pulls it up short. “Don’t play with your food!” it yells. Why not? Gregor Mendel did.

Read the whole piece here.