GMO Basics

By • January 16, 2015

Excerpt from publication originally posted at Sense About Science.

"Introduction: Why Make Sense of Uncertainty?

"Scientific uncertainty is prominent in research that has big implications for our society: could the Arctic be ice-free in summer by 2080? Will a new cancer drug be worth its side effects? Is this strain of ‘flu going to be a dangerous epidemic? 

"Uncertainty is normal currency in scientific research. Research goes on because we don’t know everything. Researchers then have to estimate how much of the picture is known and how confident we can all be that their findings tell us what’s happening or what’s going to happen. This is uncertainty. But in public discussion scientific uncertainty is presented as a deficiency of research. We want (even expect) certainty – safety, effective public policies, useful public expenditure. 

"Uncertainty is seen as worrying, and even a reason to be cynical about scientific research – particularly on subjects such as climate science, the threat of disease or the prediction of natural disasters. In some discussions, uncertainty is taken by commentators to mean that anything could be true, including things that are highly unlikely or discredited, or that nothing is known. This conflict frustrates us at Sense About Science, and we know that it frustrates researchers we work with and the public we hear from. Some clearer ideas about what researchers mean by scientific uncertainty – and where uncertainty can be measured and where it can’t – would help everyone with how to respond to the uncertainty in evidence. 

"This guide has brought together specialists in many areas – climate science, clinical research, natural hazard prediction, public health, biostatistics and epidemiology. We asked them for the reasons why they are not automatically so troubled by the presence of uncertainty in the most heated debates. We have looked at what uncertainty means and doesn’t mean in science, how it is measured, when it can’t be measured and how that might change through research into the big questions. Above all we asked how other people can grapple constructively with advances in knowledge and changes in thinking, instead of despairing at ‘those uncertain scientists’."

Read the full publication, "Making Sense of Uncertainty:Why uncertainty is part of science" here [PDF].

 

By • November 17, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article in the Arizona State University student newspaper, The State Press, about a student in the plant genetics department. 

Bruno Rozzi had just finished his sophomore year as a finance student at ASU when he came across a genetics book he had read once in high school.

Two years later, he was in a rainforest in Panama researching animal genetics for the Smithsonian Institute.

“I was set on doing finance, but I kind of liked doing science stuff back in the day – that's what I enjoyed,” Rozzi said.

Now Rozzi is one of four undergraduate students selected to work with four doctors at ASU’s Gaxiola Lab, which is a plant genetics research lab.

His team is working on ways to grow crops in unusual climates.

Rozzi said the team hopes their work will dispel pre-conceived notions that genetically modified crops are unhealthy.

“We’re trying to prove that GMO’s aren’t terrible," Rozzi said. "We’re doing it so plants will grow stronger by themselves, not with pesticides."

The technique involves pumping a complex proton gene into the plant’s roots, making it easier for the plant to grow with less attention and nutrients. 

To read the entire article, please visit The State Press website. 

By • November 17, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article in the University of Georgia student newspaper, The Red & Black, about the safety of GMOs. 

At the 2017 D.W. Brooks Lecture and Award held on Nov. 7 in the Georgia Center’s Mahler Auditorium, molecular biologist Nina Fedoroff gave her talk entitled, "The GMO Wars: What do we do when scientists and citizens deeply disagree?"

Genetically modified organisms allow scientists to modify crops to eliminate undesirable traits. According to Fedoroff, GMOs are necessary to sustain the growing population but have an unfair reputation as being unsafe.

“GMOs have been blamed for farmer suicides in India, tumors in rats, every manner of human count, from autism to obesity and infertility to cancer,” Fedoroff said. “But none of this is true. There is a growing body of what can only be called fake science about GMOs.” 

As an example of this “fake science,” Fedoroff cited a common, flawed study about tumors in rats caused by genetically modified corn. The study was retracted by its publication, but Fedoroff said it continues to be used against GMOs. 


To read the entire article, please visit The Red & Black website

By • November 16, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article by Jenny Splitter at the popular website Mental Floss explaining the basics of GMOs. 

 If you've followed the debate about GMOs with any sort of regularity, there's a strong chance you've come across a picture of a tomato stabbedby a giant syringe. That image, though a complete fiction, seems to perfectly capture what's preventing public acceptance of these foods: We don't really know what makes something a GMO.

GMOs aren't made with syringes and, at the moment, they aren't even made with tomatoes, at least not commercially. But that false image is everywhere, and surveys indicate consumers fear GMOs without knowing much about them.

So what exactly is a GMO?

FROM THE FIRST SWEET POTATO TO THE QUEEN'S CORGI

The initialism stands for "genetically modified organism," but it's a term lacking scientific precision. Moreover, it's hard to find an organism in any way connected to humans that hasn't been genetically modified, says Alison Van Eenennaam, a geneticist at UC-Davis who specializes in animal biotechnology. "I might argue that a great Dane or a Corgi are 'genetically modified' relative to their ancestor, the wolf," she tells Mental Floss. "'GMO' is not a very useful term. Modified for what and why is really the more important question.”

GMOs are often described as if they were a recent invention of our industrial food system, but genetic modification of food isn't new at all. It's been happening for many millennia: As long as farmers have been saving high-performing seeds for future harvests, we've had GMOs. Perhaps the earliest known example of a GMO is the sweet potato, which scientists believe became modified when wild sweet potatoes became infected, quite naturally, by a particular kind of soil bacteria. Realizing these sweet potatoes were edible, people began saving the seeds and cultivating them for future harvests. That was about 8000 years ago.

These days, when people say "GMO," they tend to mean one particular modification method that scientists refer to as transgenesis. As Van Eenennaam explains, transgenesis is "a plant-breeding method whereby useful genetic variation is moved from one species to another using the methods of modern molecular biology, also known as genetic engineering."

Transgenic crops and animals have been modified with the addition of one or more genes from another living organism, using either a "gene gun," Agrobacteria—a genus of naturally occurring bacteria that insert DNA into plants—or electricity, in a process called electroporation.

To read the entire article, please visit Mental Floss

By • November 10, 2017

This post was originally published on GMO Answers' Medium page.

 

“A frantic and frenetic celebration of food and nutrition.” Registered Dietitian Leah McGrath looks back at her experience at this year’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo.

 

FNCE… (pronounced “fen-cee” ) is the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). With some 100,000 members, AND is the largest organization of nutrition professionals in the world. FNCE of 2017 was a special occasion, marking the 100th year celebration of the founding of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetics Association). It was not surprising to hear that 13,000 FNCE attendees had journeyed from across the United States, Canada and, in fact, the world to attend the event, which this year was held in Chicago, October 21-24th.  A group from South Africa had flown for most of the day to be in Chicago and even a contingent of students from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico attended. 

If I had to describe FNCE, it would be a combination of the Academy Awards, Trick-or-Treat, and a college or family reunion rolled into three jam-packed days of marathon race intensity, complete with thousands upon thousands of steps walked. The massive Chicago exhibition center, McCormick Place, provided the venue for numerous educational sessions on a variety of topics, everything from school nutrition and nutrition for seniors to new fields of study presenting research on nutrigenomics, gut health and probiotics. Sessions were also offered on the future of food featuring content on biotechnology and agriculture as well as professional development to acquire skills in media, social media, entrepreneurship and even how to create a viral video.  

 

ah McGrath with friend, Kim Bremmer (@AgInspirations), at FNCE this year. (Image credit: Leah McGrath)

 

For many, their concept of the role of a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is typically linked with school nutrition or working in a hospital setting, i.e., clinical nutrition. But with so many members, the vast array of expertise was reflected not only in the educational tracks, but indicated on their registration badges and also in their attire and often uniforms that they wore: sports nutrition, public policy, media, working with food brands and commodity boards, research, the military, retail dietetics, education and teaching are all just a few of the areas where you can find dietitians. 

Academy Awards: In addition to educational sessions, FNCE featured keynote speakers from the Academy leadership as well as celebrities. This year two of note were Sanjay Gupta and Kimbal Musk.  Gupta was the featured speaker at the opening session. A neurosurgeon and CNN commentator, Gupta, had a mostly engaging and often entertaining presentation about his travels around the world to war-torn areas. He seemed to promote a “food as medicine” mantra, which for some seemed a bit surprising considering the fact that as a neurosurgeon, food would not be treatment for his patients.  Additionally, some of my fellow dietitians questioned how much value he places in dietitians since they failed to recall having ever seen dietitians featured on his health segments. Kimbal Musk, brother of the famed Tesla inventor, Elon Musk, and son of supermodel and dietitian Maye Musk, also proved to be a somewhat puzzling choice. While his work with school nutrition and urban hydroponic farming was highlighted in his talk, he also seemed to have a very definite bias against corn and soy farming in the United States, and some very negative opinions and misinformation about government involvement in farming, and yet professed to be a supporter of science in agriculture.

Trick-or-Treat: Another part of the FNCE experience was the Expo Hall. This is the vast exhibition area that housed over 300 exhibitors of food and other products as well as student poster sessions. Many dietitians eagerly look forward to the Expo Hall as an opportunity to check out new technology, sample new products or reformulated products with new ingredients or flavors and load up bags with giveaway items (swag) like coupons, mini samples, thermometers, oven mitts and much more. In years past, the Expo Hall was characterized by large booths featuring major Consumer Product Goods (CPG) brands like Kellogg’s, Nestle, Hershey, PepsiCo, Chobani and more. Many of these booths seemed to have disappeared, or at least downsized, and instead I saw more booths promoting supplements, probiotics, healing crystals and even an area with massage chairs. Some of the trends visible in Expo hall products were plant-based beverages, flavored waters, protein-enhanced items as well as a dizzying array of snack and meal bars.

Reunion: Educational sessions, the Expo Hall, speakers...these are just the tip of the FNCE experience, which also is full of chance encounters with former classmates or employers while waiting in line at Starbucks, parties thrown at Chicago restaurants and event venues by brands and dietetic practice groups, and huddled conversations and meetings to network and make connections and business deals. 

Overall FNCE is what you make it, an annual frantic and frenetic celebration of food, nutrition, education and connections. 

By • November 10, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article on the Litchfield Independent Review. This is the second of a two-part series on genetically modified foods. This week's article presents the views of area crop farmers who support genetically modifying crops.

Mary Jo and Karl Lamb are crop farmers in Renville County. Yielding sweet corn, field corn and soy beans, the Lambs have a pro-GMO stance on this agricultural practice.

Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are crops developed through genetic engineering, a more precise method of plant breeding, the Lambs believe. Genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology, allows plant breeders to take what they deem a desirable trait found in nature and transfer it from one plant or organism to the plant they want to improve, as well as make a change to an existing trait in a plant they are developing.

Some examples of traits commonly transferred include resistance to insects and disease and tolerance to herbicides that allow farmers to better control weeds.

“Not every seed put in the ground is genetically modified,” Mary Jo said. “People need to understand that there’s a reason why they are used, and it’s completely safe.”

The Lambs, who live south of Cosmos and farm in the Hector area, are among millions of farmers who share the opinion that genetically modified crops are a benefit to their line of work. Using science as their guide, the Lambs look at GMOs as catalyst for providing the best crop for the consumption of their customers. The results of research and design in GMOs, they said, provide the ideal crop, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s amazing that some smart scientist peeled the best parts of plants and made the best plant that there is,” Mary Jo said. “That’s all it is. Better, stronger, healthier crops.”

And while some have differing opinions in the GMO debate, the Lambs’ frustration stems from what they consider to be a lack of proper information.

Read the entire article to find out more about the Lambs and their farm. 

 

By • November 09, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article in Genetic Engineering News that notes new breakthroughs in nutrition research that could bring healthier, more nutritious GM potatoes. 

Genetically modified crops have had no shortage of controversy over the years, much of it rooted in fear and the general lack of fundamental scientific knowledge. Yet researchers have pushed forward in developing crops that could help boost basic nutritional requirements for developing nations that rely heavily on foods that are deficient in essential vitamins. One example comes by way of new research from investigators at The Ohio State University and the Italian National Agency for New Technologies who have developed a “golden” potato with significantly increased levels of vitamins A and E. Findings from the new study were published recently in PLOS ONE in an article entitled “Potential of Golden Potatoes to Improve Vitamin A and Vitamin E Status in Developing Countries.”     

The research team found that a serving of the yellow-orange lab-engineered potato has the potential to provide as much as 42% of a child's recommended daily intake of vitamin A and 34% of a child's recommended intake of vitamin E. Moreover, the researchers concluded that women of reproductive age could get 15% of their recommended vitamin A and 17% of recommended vitamin E from that same 5.3-ounce (150-gram) serving.

The potato is the fourth most widely consumed plant food by humans after rice, wheat, and corn, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is a staple food in some Asian, African, and South American countries, where there is a high incidence of vitamin A and vitamin E deficiencies. Improving staple crops through genetic manipulation is becoming increasingly important as global population rates continue to rise steadily and climate change begins to threaten many croplands. Nature News recently reported on an international effort to sequence the notoriously complicated wheat genome, with the hopes of better understanding its growth requirements and improving its nutritional output.   

"More than 800,000 people depend on the potato as their main source of energy, and many of these individuals are not consuming adequate amounts of these vital nutrients," explained senior study investigator Mark Failla, Ph.D., professor emeritus of human nutrition at Ohio State. "These golden tubers have far more vitamin A and vitamin E than white potatoes, and that could make a significant difference in certain populations where deficiencies—and related diseases—are common."

To read the entire article and learn more about this research, please visit Genetic Engineering News

By • November 09, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a press release posted to the Texas A&M AgriLife website announcing the results of a new study that could help water efficiency in plants. 

A discovery by Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists in Dallasprovides new insights about the biological or circadian clock, how it regulates high water-use efficiency in some plants, and how others, including food plants, might be improved for the same efficiency, possibly to grow in conditions uninhabitable for them today.

The scientists in their study, published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution at http://bit.ly/2xOZr1M, identify 1,398 transcription factors, proteins that regulate expression of certain genes in pineapple. Of those, nearly half exhibited time-of-day specific or diurnal gene expression patterns, which could be important in uncovering the genetic controls for water use in plants.

 

“This is an important step in understanding the overall circadian regulation of water-efficient photosynthesis and how that efficiency might be replicated in other plants, namely food crops,” said Dr. Qingyi Yu, AgriLife Research associate professor of plant genomics in Dallas.

Her team’s study comes on the heels of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, awarded this year for discoveries related to the molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythm.

Yu’s group focused on pineapple, a water-efficient tropical plant that uses crassulacean acid metabolism or CAM photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, CAM plants open their stomata at night to facilitate water-efficient gas exchange compared to C3 plants, whose less water-efficient gas exchange occurs during the day. The majority of food crops, including rice, wheat, soybean and cotton, use C3 photosynthesis.

To learn more about this research, please visit the Texas A&M AgriLife website

By • November 08, 2017

The following is a crossposting of a blog post by The Farm Babe (Michelle Miller) at the site Ag Daily noting that farmers should embrace common goals. 

I sometimes feel like we live in a world of extremes. Are you a Republican or a Democrat? Are you pro-this, which means you’re anti-that? People want you to take sides — join a tribe.

But what if there was a beautiful common ground? What if, instead of creating a divide, we brought people together? Is it possible for ideas to coexist? In farming, it doesn’t matter if you’re big or small, organic or not. Any farmer can do a good job, regardless of size or label. We all care about animal welfare, soil health, and the environment, among other things.

For me, I’m probably the most neutral person you’ll ever meet. I appreciate all ideas of religion and politics, for example. I’m quite open minded. I want to hear all sides of every topic and am always open to evidence to change my mind. Sadly, I feel I’m in the minority, and many folks are engrained in certain beliefs, refusing to challenge their dogma.

Recently, I found out a soil health expert was coming to speak in our area about water quality. While I appreciate his knowledge on soil health, the misinformation he spreads about GMOs and how farmers should all go organic is just not true. As I’ve previously mentioned here, conservation is a huge part of the job description regardless of label. There are so many myths out there about GMOs, perpetuated at the industry level by organic food companies or “Non GMO”-branded labels. Everyone is trying to sell something — food companies want a bigger piece of the money pie. So when this speaker shares his knowledge of soil health, he has never been a conventional row crop grower, and it undermines his credibility to claim that only organic farmers care about the soil and water. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

I call out this as an example — not to undermine organic whatsoever, but to challenge the views of people like this who feel the need to spread lies or misinformation about the competitor. There is nothing wrong with someone being organic or not, but let’s not change public perception based on bias. The same thing goes for the hardcore GMO lovers who feel the need to undermine small organic farms as being detrimental. If someone would like to share their knowledge of a specific topic, that is great, but they shouldn’t have to put down other methods to sell their message. Stick to the facts, not a persuasive or myth filled agenda. Some folks need to belittle others in order to make themselves feel better. This is a lesson we even learned back in grade school when the bullies would pick on other kids to make themselves feel better, but that doesn’t make it right.

There are some large-scale farmers that treat animals better than small scale. There are some small-scale ones that do it better than the big guys. Sometimes organic farms don’t have to spray chemicals, but this also rings true for non-organic. Sometimes organic farms spray more pesticides than non-organic, sometimes it’s the opposite. It boils down to management or pest pressure, not label. In terms of differences and importances of all aspects, check out this awesome TED Talk by Pamela Ronald. This is a beautiful example of a plant geneticist working on improving crops through GMO technology, while being married to an organic farmer. This example of harmonious coexistence is one we should all be able to honor and realize that it takes a village. It really does takes all types.

Let’s try to see every farming operation for what it is: good salt of the earth people trying to make a living and feed themselves, their communities, or the world. Everyone is special. Everyone creates family memories and puts food on the table in an impactful way, whether that impact is for one child or 1 million. Don’t hate, celebrate!

I would say our farm is medium-sized in the grand scheme of things across the country. You can find me at small local farmers markets, selling our private label farm fresh meats, but you’ll also see some pretty big equipment tending to a couple thousand acres while we farm full time. No hobby here for us — its legitimately how we make our living. Despite our farm size, I’ve been to so many other farms from small hobbies to huge CAFOs with hundreds of thousands of animals. I’ve been impressed with all different aspects and can see the strengths and weaknesses of all different methods. So before judging, take some tours. Askand learn from folks who do things differently than you. You just may be pleasantly surprised when you open your mind and welcome new ideas.

Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is an Iowa-based farmer, public speaker and writer, who lives and works with her boyfriend on their farm which consists of row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.

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