Independent Expert

Alan McHughen

CE Biotechnology Specialist and Geneticist

Dr. Alan McHughen, a public sector educator, scientist and consumer advocate, earned his doctorate at Oxford University and currently works at UC Riverside. A molecular geneticist, Dr. McHughen helped develop U.S. and Canadian regulations governing the safety of GM foods. He has also studied the environmental effects of transgenic plants, the safety of GM foods and the sustainability and economic of biotechnology on U.S. agriculture for the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. McHughen has firsthand experience with the regulatory process, having developed internationally approved commercial crop varieties using both conventional breeding and GE techniques, and wrote an award-winning book to help consumers understand the risks and potential of GMO technology. Most recently, Dr. McHughen served as a Jefferson Science Fellow at the US Department of State and as a Senior Policy Analyst at the White House.

From this Expert

Posted On: Tuesday, 12/06/2016 11:41 am
A: In general, no. The biotech companies have been very good at responding to specific or technical questions, especially from their direct customers (farmers), but have missed opportunities to engage the public and other critics skeptical of biotechnology. To be fair, some critics cannot be engaged in rational debate, as they are pursuing an agenda and have no interest in having their ‘questions’ addressed.   However, other critics are sincere and do wish to learn (even if... Continue Reading
Posted On: Friday, 10/30/2015 3:01 pm
A: The best source detailing the components used in making GE crops is probably this list at USDA- APHIS.   This site lists all of the GE crops (regulated articles) for which a petition has been submitted, and the status of each petition.   To find component details, select the specific GE crop you’re interested in and click on the arrow link to open up links to detailed documents, including Federal Register notices, the petition itself and usually some other... Continue Reading
Posted On: Monday, 5/11/2015 7:58 am
A: I see lots of potential downsides with using the GE corn to produce insulin, from the more complicated transformation procedure, to more difficult extraction/purification, to the possibility (however remote) of food/feed corn admixtures. I was able to come up with no compelling reason to engineer a corn plant to produce insulin, as long as the bacterial system is operating effectively (which, as I understand, it is). 
Posted On: Wednesday, 11/26/2014 3:01 pm
A: Modern GMOs are developed by teams of experts in different fields, as few individuals have the broad range of skills needed to develop commercialized GMOs alone. Also, different kinds of GMOs are developed for different purposes by teams with differing expertise. For example, a GMO to produce a pharmaceutical product like insulin would not require the same expertise as a GM corn crop with enhanced drought tolerance.   However, the experts typically have college level training in... Continue Reading
Posted On: Tuesday, 4/22/2014 12:33 pm
A: Genes — portions of the chemical abbreviated as DNA — have been moved around from one species to another by humans since the 1970s, and by Mother Nature for eons. In every case, the anticipated outcome has been realized. For example, humans have been moving the gene for insulin from humans to bacteria for almost half a century (and now provide insulin for almost all insulin-dependent diabetics). In every case, the recipient bacteria “read” the human insulin gene recipe and make human insulin.... Continue Reading


How do we know an inserted gene does only what it is supposed to do?

By Alan McHughen (Independent Expert) on Monday, January 27, 2014 - 08:47

How do we know that genetic modification works? Because all living things use the same language. In biology all genes are made of specific sequences of a, t, c and g – the four DNA bases – regardless of the species source or recipient. A human gene, such as the insulin gene, transferred to bacteria will work the same way in bacteria as it does in humans. Think of genes as recipes that all use the same four ingredients.
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