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Alan McHughen

CE Biotechnology Specialist and Geneticist

Expert Bio

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.

Studies, Articles and Answers

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Showing 8 out of 8 results

Question

Q: Isn’t the produce department in my grocery store full of products from GMOs?

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jul 30, 2013

A: Actually, only a few products in the produce aisle are GMOs―some sweet corn, some summer squash and some papayas. There is currently a total of eight GM crops commercially available in the United States: corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and summer squash.    Processed foods like sugar or vegetable oil may carry ingredients from GM crops, but the modified features of the crop are not present in the food and do not change the safety or nutritional values of the food. [...]

GMO Basics How GMOs Are Made

Question

Q: Have you reviewed the study showing that GMOs caused cancer in lab rats?

Answered By Alan McHughen - Sep 11, 2013

A: The pictures from that study conducted by Gilles-Eric Séralini are frightening—and made for sensationalistic media coverage.  However, when teams of scientists from around the world looked at the study carefully, they found that the conclusions drawn by Séralini were not credible and that the study itself was seriously flawed and provided no new grounds for concern about GM food.  The paper was criticized by public scientific and medical societies worldwide for its faulty experimental design, statistical analysis, interpretation and presentation of results. Problems includ [...]

GMO Basics Health & Safety

Question

Q: David Suzuki says that we dont know the unintended consequences at the molecular level of genetic engineering. He uses the analogy of taking Mick Jagger and putting him in with a symphony orchestra and saying Now, make music. He say that the context of a

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jun 26, 2014

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. They never make anything else from the human insulin recipe, just insulin. When the exercise fails, i [...]

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jun 26, 2014

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. They never make anything else from the human insulin recipe, just insulin. When the exercise fails, i [...]

Health & Safety

Question

Q: David Suzuki says that we dont know the unintended consequences at the molecular level of genetic engineering. He uses the analogy of taking Mick Jagger and putting him in with a symphony orchestra and saying Now, make music. He say that the context of a

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jun 26, 2014

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. They never make anything else from the human insulin recipe, just insulin. When the exercise fails, i [...]

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jun 26, 2014

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. They never make anything else from the human insulin recipe, just insulin. When the exercise fails, i [...]

Health & Safety

Question

Q: What would a student major in at college to learn to create gmos

Answered By Alan McHughen - Dec 16, 2014

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 subjects including basic biology, chemistry (especially biochemistry), genetics (especially molecular geneti [...]

Other

Question

Q: Why would an insulin producing gene in corn plants be a better alternative than in bacteria?

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jul 01, 2015

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).  [...]

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jul 01, 2015

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).  [...]


Question

Q: Why would an insulin producing gene in corn plants be a better alternative than in bacteria?

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jul 01, 2015

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).  [...]

Answered By Alan McHughen - Jul 01, 2015

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).  [...]


Question

Q: Is there a list somewhere detailing what species was used to make each GMO? I think it would be cool to share...ie glyphosate resistance in corn originating from a petunia plant, etc. Or which genes were silenced to achieve the desired expression?

Answered By Alan McHughen - Mar 18, 2016

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 official documents. Click on the petition to read details about the GE plant. Although there is no standard [...]

GMO Basics How GMOs Are Made