<p>Since pro and con GMO are all blaming scientists from the other side to be bought, why not creating a lab where a 50 50 funding would be applied for research? 50 bigbiotech 50 bigorganic. Or maybe 33 biotech, 33 organic, 33 government. Experimental protocols could be reviewed by both parties before carrying experiments.</p>
Submitted by: TheAlchemist
Expert response from Kent Bradford
Director, Seed Biotechnology Center, UC Davis
Friday, 10/23/2015 14:16
This is an interesting question, and something like it has been done in the past. For example, California’s legislature created a program somewhat like this to promote such industry-university collaborations. “The UC Discovery Grant (UCDG) promotes collaborations between University of California researchers and industry partners in the interest of supporting cutting-edge research, strengthening the state’s economy, and serving the public good. UCDG research projects are jointly funded by a UC Discovery Grant and an industry sponsor matching contribution.” This program was active from 1996 to 2011, when it was suspended due to severe budget cuts to the University during the recent recession. This was a very successful program in which the state provided half of the funding for the research if private partners would pay the other half. For example, a number of projects supported by the UC Discovery Program at the UC Davis Seed Biotechnology Center (of which I am director) enabled the sequencing of the genomes of a number of crops, particularly of vegetables that otherwise do not receive large financial support for such basic research (see Annual Reports prior to 2012). This has greatly accelerated the pace of progress in plant breeding in these crops. All of the results of the research supported are in the public domain and are published in scientific journals. This demonstrates that such partnership and cooperation are possible and can provide benefits to the industry partners (research results to support their product development), the university (support for students through the research projects) and the state (increased success of companies, creating jobs and economic benefits for society).
However, I think that the focus of your question is probably not the more fundamental research supported by the UC Discovery program but risk assessments, environmental impacts and other more controversial aspects of the use of biotechnology in agriculture. This type of cooperation has also occurred in these subjects as well, such as studies that we conducted in cooperation with industry partners to assess the potential for out-crossing from biotech alfalfa or cotton to conventional crops (e.g., Van Deynze et al. 2011. Crop Science 51:298-305). Again, these studies generated scientifically sound information that can be used by both public and private entities. Thus, the mechanism you propose has worked well and would be a valuable approach to both develop new information and seek consensus on its implications. A key component in the success of the UC Discovery Program was the public funding to attract private partners, so government financial support for such programs can have a big impact to leverage private funding for public research.
A worrying recent development that would impede such beneficial cooperation is the movement to brand any public researchers who conduct such cooperative research with industry partners as being automatically biased, or as you say “bought”. It is implied that any such collaborative research must be a conspiracy to subvert the truth. But ask yourself, if you were a company paying a university researcher to conduct research, would you be happy if that researcher provided you with results that were not actually true? Companies invest a lot of resources in future products based upon the results of the fundamental and exploratory research conducted in public institutions. Would it really be in their best interests to base such future investments on false conclusions from biased research? I have been involved continuously in research co-supported by industry partners for more than 25 years, and never have I been pressured in any way to direct studies or modify results to support a predetermined outcome. The purpose of research is to find out what is actually the case, not what you wish it might be, and all the scientists that I know who are worthy of the name hold this as their guiding principle.