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Going for the Gold: What We're Reading, July 2016

Going for the Gold: What We’re Reading – July 2016

As the world gathers in Rio for the Summer Olympics, we are gathering our favorite stories to share with you.  It’s been a marathon of a month, and now it’s time to party like its Carnival! Check out some of the articles that have caught our eye and deserve a spot at the top of the podium.

Buzzer Beaters – Using GMO Mosquitoes to Fight Zika

The threat of the Zika virus is a real concern for athletes and fans attending the Games in Rio, but researchers are working to develop genetically modified mosquitoes to help in the fight against the disease. In an article in the New Republic, Jeff Bessen notes, “Consumers who scrupulously avoid genetically modified foods might be surprised to know that lots of drugs and vaccines they rely on are the product of GMOs.”

To combat the disease, researchers create the modified mosquitoes, nearly all male, in a lab. When these GMO mosquitoes are released and mate with females in the wild, up to 97 percent of their offspring can’t survive. If enough GMO mosquitoes are released and mate, the population eventually declines.

Thanks to genetically modified organisms, medical researchers now have the potential to get ahead of the next disease outbreak, gaining the ability to be proactive instead of reactive the next time a new threat emerges.

Learn more about how genetically modified vaccines are developed, and how researchers are looking toward the future of molecular biology at GMOs Could Save Your Life—They Might Have Already

Overhead Smash – Developing Tomatoes That Don’t Get Soft

According to a new paper published the journal Nature Biotechnology, scientists have found a way to re-engineer the tomato so it remains firm for a long time. The researchers were able do this by turning off a gene responsible for the softening of the tomato during the ripening process. And as an article at the website Mic notes, “The GMO tomatoes have a longer shelf life than regular tomatoes. This could impact how long grocery stores can shelve and sell their produce, ultimately affecting the health of the planet and the people in it.”

While much research remains on this project, including perfecting that great garden fresh tomato taste, this new tomato could have a large impact on the farm, in the grocery store, and eventually in your refrigerator.  To find out more about this research and how the researchers came up with this breakthrough, please read this article at Ars Technica.

Give These Guys a Medal – How One Innovative Meal Replacement Company Is Utilizing GMOs

Soylent, a Silicon Valley company that makes ready-to-drink meal replacements, is shaking up the shake industry when it comes to talking about GMOs. Erin Brodwin at Business Insider reports, “The startup, which has attracted a cult following with its convenient powders and ready-to-drink bottles designed to replace eating actual meals, is made with genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.” The company doesn’t shy away from that fact, either, highlighting its philosophy on its website.

The company is doing a full-court press to try to educate people that the GMO ingredients in its products are safe and healthy, noting support from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the European Commission, and the National Academy of Sciences.  A blog post on the Soylent website also notes the potential positive impact on the environment and sustainability, and potential for solving some of the world’s hunger issues.  Let’s all do the wave for Soylent for taking such a proactive stance and highlighting GMO ingredients.

Read more about Soylent and their embrace of GMOs here.

Crossing the Finish Line – Bangladesh Has a Farming Breakthrough

The eggplant is one of the most important crops in Bangladesh.  But the crop is not an easy one to grow there. The biggest issue facing Bangladeshi eggplant farmers is a worm called the fruit and shoot borer. Even with proper crop protection, farmers can lose 20-40% of their harvest each year to these pests.

A new genetically modified eggplant introduced into the country three years ago could change that.  The new breed has been modified to include a gene in the plant that can kill the borer. This not only reduces the damage from the worms, but also the amount of pesticide applications made each year. The process kills the borer worm, but is not harmful to humans or other insects or animals.

An amazing new multimedia report at tells the story of how Bangladeshi farmers are adopting this new technology, and its impact on the economy. If this new technology succeeds on a wider scale, it could be a whole new ballgame for farmers in that country.

Faster, Higher, Stronger – Why People are Afraid of New Things

One of the underlying factors behind the opposition to GMOs is the fear of new technology. A new book chronicles the history of opposition to innovations ranging from tractors to coffee and margarine -- and the underlying reasons. Calestous Juma, a professor in Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, is the author of the new book, Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technology.

A Washington Post profile of Dr. Juma notes that many of the reasons why people are reluctant to welcome new technology are also applicable to GMOs, including opposing innovation even when it seems to be in their best interest, and that people make decisions about new innovations with their guts  rather than evidence.

The book acknowledges the need to address legitimate health and environmental concerns related to new products and technologies, and highlights that transparency and caution in the handling of scientific uncertainty are critical elements of public trust.

Click here to read more about Dr. Juma, his book, and barriers to the adoption of new technologies.  


As always, if you have any questions after reading this post – please ask!


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