The term variety refers to a population of plants that is genetically similar and has one or more traits that make it distinct from other plants of the same species. (Another commonly used term, cultivar, is applied to plant varieties that are produced by cultivation, or human intervention.)
Genetic engineering involves mechanically manipulating a plant’s genetic structure to give it a trait it doesn’t naturally possess or to limit expression of its natural characteristics. Genes from a bacterium or a fish may be inserted into a plant, for example, or specific genes may be suppressed. Plants resulting from genetic engineering are called genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. While plant breeders have long used genetic manipulation methods to produce plants with desirable characteristics, those techniques replicate the natural processes by which genetic information is remixed. By comparison, genetic engineering often results in a final product that could never be achieved by nature.
Image: (cc) Liz West/flickr
Ask Organic Gardening is edited by Deb Martin
Originally published in Organic Gardening magazine, April/May 2013