GMOs & Farmers

By • August 18, 2017

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

By Manjul Dutt Ph.D., and Jude W. Grosser Ph.D.

Manjul Dutt Ph.D., is a Research Assistant Scientist in the Horticultural Sciences department within University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Jude W. Grosser Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Florida working on a research program in citrus variety improvement that addresses all major citrus production problems in Florida, and also strives to develop new cultivars that will provide growers with new marketing opportunities. Grosser’s research combines emerging biotechnologies with conventional breeding approaches in efforts to develop improved rootstocks and scions for both processing and fresh market.

 

Citrus Greening

Genetic engineering is the fastest method of citrus improvement that may be able to save this Florida crop. (Image Credit: GMO Answers)

 

The Citrus Greening Problem

Florida’s citrus economy has taken a hit from the citrus greening disease (Huanglongbing also known as HLB) epidemic outbreak. The causal agent of citrus greening disease is Candidatus Liberibacter spp. These bacteria live in the plant’s phloem tissue (the plant’s sugar transport system) and the gut of its carrier host, an insect called the Asian Citrus Psyllid (Diaphorina citri). The Asian Citrus Psyllid sucks the sap from the leaf or stem of an infected tree and transmits the bacteria into the healthy tree. This is similar to how malaria is spread by mosquitos in humans. This disease reduces the tree’s vigor and leads to tree decline. Fruits produced on severely infected trees often do not ripen completely and can become misshapen, rendering the fruits unmarketable as the juice becomes bitter. Intensive costly insecticide spray programs are being employed by citrus growers across Florida to control this insect.  However, they are not working efficiently, as the disease has spread from south Miami-Dade County, where it was first discovered in 2005, to most trees in all citrus growing counties.

Hundreds of thousands of affected grapefruit and sweet orange trees have been removed from Florida groves, as they are highly susceptible to HLB infection. As a result, many growers, packing houses and even a few juice processing plants have gone out of business. Some growers have even ventured into alternate crops such as blueberries and peaches. This disease is causing serious damage to the Florida economy, as citrus has been a $10B industry in Florida. 

The Biotech Solution

The citrus trees that we see out in the groves, homeowner yards or in garden centers are produced through the combination of two tree parts. The top of the tree that produces the fruit is called the scion and the bottom of the tree that anchors the tree below ground is called the rootstock. Trees can be grown with different combinations of scions and rootstocks. Researchers have studied the use of various combinations to determine if there are scion and rootstocks or a combination of the two that are more tolerant to HLB infection. Long-term management of HLB lies in the development and deployment of highly tolerant or resistant citrus scions and/or rootstocks. Conventionally bred hybrid scions and rootstocks are currently being evaluated and several show promise, but genetic engineering (familiarly, “GMO”) remains the fastest method of citrus improvement without otherwise changing the original characteristics (cultivar integrity) of the citrus varieties that are popular in Florida. Using genetic engineering technology, one or more genes that confer resistance can be inserted into the genome of any given citrus variety, without changing the variety other than adding the new valuable trait that is otherwise unavailable.

Three Ways GMOs Can Help

  1. Several strategies to control HLB are showing promise.  The most publicized strategy has been the use of the spinach defensin AMP gene by the Southern Gardens Corporation.  AMP stands for ‘anti-microbial peptide’.  AMP gene products are small protein-like peptides that can damage bacterial cell membranes, causing bacterial cell death and thus prevent infection.  Many plants and animals (including humans) produce AMP’s.  For an example, think about your own eyes – a nice warm, open and moist environment – perfect for a bacterial infection; yet it rarely happens – WHY?  Because humans have their own AMP gene products floating around in the eye intraocular fluid that prevent infections.  The AMP gene transferred to sweet oranges showing promise in this case is from spinach, so it is something that we already eat routinely!  This should dampen opposition to the genetically-engineered citrus trees.
  2. Another strategy that we are finding successful is a strategy to augment the citrus trees own defense system.  Just like animals and humans that have immune systems, plants have developed defense mechanisms against invading pathogens.  The primary defense system in plants is called SAR (Systemic Acquired Resistance).  This defense response begins with a mobile signal that is triggered by infection. Once this occurs, the mobile signal initiates a series of steps that activates a number of defense related genes within the plant’s cells. However, HLB somehow has the ability to fool natural citrus trees, and the available defense system does not become fully engaged after infection.  We have found that the insertion of the NPR1 gene isolated from Arabidopsis (a mustard plant relative, again an edible plant) into sweet orange trees increased their SAR defense response, making the trees highly tolerant or resistant to HLB.  Our work has demonstrated that this non-citrus NPR-1 that did not co-evolve with the HLB bacterium facilitates the activation of this mobile signal following infection, thereby enhancing the HLB resistance in these engineered orange trees.  We are currently evaluating the horticultural performance of these trees.
  3. Finally, in a grafted tree, such as citrus, the SAR-induction signal can potentially move from the site of infection in the scion (fruit-producing part of the tree) to the rootstock and trigger the activation of defense genes both in rootstock and scion. If the SAR-induced defense signal is indeed mobile and can be transmitted from one part of the plant to the other, then it is indeed possible that a non-transgenic scion (the top of the tree)  grafted onto a transgenic rootstock expressing the Arabidopsis NPR1 gene could adequately protect the non-transgenic scion against infection. In this case, the fruit or juice from the tree might not be considered a “GMO” product at all.  This would have a positive impact on subsequent consumer acceptance.  Research is ongoing to evaluate this hypothesis. If this hypothesis is validated, then the transgenic rootstock would have the defense genes turned on and ready to assist the non-transgenic top scion following infection, resulting in highly tolerant or resistant citrus trees.

Tolerant rootstocks and scions have the potential to be an effective long term solution to combat citrus greening. The genetic engineering strategies described herein are just some of the many avenues being explored by researchers at the University of Florida and elsewhere. As researchers work together, we are hopeful that a total and sustainable solution will emerge to help save our beloved citrus industry!

Posted on August 15, 2017
GMO crops are not "banned" in any countries around the world in the normal sense of that word. Usually when something is banned for consumption, etc., it is because some problem emerged that needed a response. The history of regulation for biotech crops is quite different in that there were regulatory approval processes developed long before any such crops were commercialized. The goal was to try to anticipate any potential health or environmental issues and to make... Read More
Answer:
Posted on March 2, 2017
These are definitely questions that many people are asking and researching to come up with answers.  In a day and age when a person can go to their smart phone to find a restaurant or search for directions, our society is definitely accustomed to finding answers quickly.   Unfortunately, complex issues take more time for the scientific community to research and develop answers. History is full of examples such as genetics, which started with the work of Gregor Mendel in 1856 and... Read More
Answer:
Posted on May 6, 2017
A gene with a desirable trait can be moved from one organism to another organism as a means to change it. The traditional way is through selective breeding, which is slow, time consuming, inefficient, and transfers more than one gene, so other unexpected and unwanted traits can cause problems. But genes also can be moved in a laboratory, resulting in what has been called a genetically modified (“transgenic”) organism (GMO). GM technology moves only one gene, eliminating other,... Read More
Answer:

By • August 18, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a guest column in the Denton (TX) Record-Chronicle by Texas A&M Extension Agent David Annis about the history of genetically modification.  

Have you wondered if genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe to eat? Do you wonder about the labels on the food that say "Natural" or "Organic" and what this means to you? Are you concerned about antibiotics in meats and dairy on your table? Where do you turn for the unbiased answers to these questions?

Let's face it. The debate — no, let's call it what it is — the fight both for and against GMOs have been going on for years. Nevertheless, did you know that we have been playing around with GMOs for thousands of years? Modifying crops, cross breeding animals, always in search of those that were best suited for the environment around them. These modifications reached the point hundreds of years ago that these plants would not survive without the help and management of humans. How did we get here?

Between 1850 and 1860, Austrian monk Gregor Mendel tinkered with the genetics of the pea plant. In the 1950s, scientists started using radiation in plant-breeding programs. This has produced thousands of useful mutants and a sizable fraction of the world's crops. These include varieties of rice, wheat, barley, pears, peas, cotton, peppermint, sunflowers, peanuts, grapefruit, sesame, bananas, cassava and sorghum. The mutant wheat is used for bread and pasta, and the mutant barley for beer and fine whiskey. 

To read the rest of the article, please read the original column at the Denton Record-Chronicle

Posted on August 15, 2017
No! However, poor nutrition coupled with highly processed foods and a lack of education regarding healthy eating is bad for our kids. As a mother and farmer, I believe the best way to keep my family safe and healthy is to make sure they eat a balanced diet and make good food choices daily. Fresh, healthy ingredients and minimally processed foods that are low in sugar, salt, calories and cholesterol provide kids with the best opportunity for a healthy diet. Agricultural biotechnology... Read More
Answer:
Posted on May 6, 2017
A gene with a desirable trait can be moved from one organism to another organism as a means to change it. The traditional way is through selective breeding, which is slow, time consuming, inefficient, and transfers more than one gene, so other unexpected and unwanted traits can cause problems. But genes also can be moved in a laboratory, resulting in what has been called a genetically modified (“transgenic”) organism (GMO). GM technology moves only one gene, eliminating other,... Read More
Answer:
Posted on May 6, 2017
A gene with a desirable trait can be moved from one organism to another organism as a means to change it. The traditional way is through selective breeding, which is slow, time consuming, inefficient, and transfers more than one gene, so other unexpected and unwanted traits can cause problems. But genes also can be moved in a laboratory, resulting in what has been called a genetically modified (“transgenic”) organism (GMO). GM technology moves only one gene, eliminating other,... Read More
Answer:

By • August 17, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article and video on the WTAJ-TV website discussing how GMO seeds have helped local farmers. 

AG Progress Days is an opportunity for vendors and producers to all come together and show the advancements in agriculture but what I've learned today is that it's equally important to get the community involved.

TA Seeds is based in Jersey Shore, Pa., and it's participated with AG Progress Days for about 35 years. For over three decades  its seen the growth and advancements for genetic modification. But Taylor Doebler, owner of TA Seeds, said the label has come with a downfall.

"Misinformation out there is hurting everybody when it comes to what GMOs are about," Doebler said. You have the traditional or conventional seed, and others modified with man-made proteins. Those additives fight off pests that can infect crops. "GMO and other products are tools in a farmer's or producers toolbox," Doebler said.

The modification protects the corn that cows eat, which produce your milk and beef. Having more options available for producers is what Congressman Glenn Thompson said keeps the industry competitive. "It makes it a fair fight for our farmers," Thompson said. And keeps local companies afloat.

"It helps them to have more money in the pockets of farmers and farm families at the end of the day," Thompson said. But modifications come with a steeper price tag. The retail value can be up to 60% more than conventional seeds. Ultimately Doebler said breaking down each option helps the community better understand the industry.

"Talk to people and explain to them where their food comes from," Doebler said.

Click here to read the entire article and view the video. 

 

Posted on August 15, 2017
No! However, poor nutrition coupled with highly processed foods and a lack of education regarding healthy eating is bad for our kids. As a mother and farmer, I believe the best way to keep my family safe and healthy is to make sure they eat a balanced diet and make good food choices daily. Fresh, healthy ingredients and minimally processed foods that are low in sugar, salt, calories and cholesterol provide kids with the best opportunity for a healthy diet. Agricultural biotechnology... Read More
Answer:
Posted on August 15, 2017
GMO crops are not "banned" in any countries around the world in the normal sense of that word. Usually when something is banned for consumption, etc., it is because some problem emerged that needed a response. The history of regulation for biotech crops is quite different in that there were regulatory approval processes developed long before any such crops were commercialized. The goal was to try to anticipate any potential health or environmental issues and to make... Read More
Answer:
Posted on August 15, 2017
  On average, the recent research that has been conducted on GMOs, on a per product basis is calculated to be an average of $130 Million (and 13 years). This is a per product average, so each product that reaches commercialization in a given year would also cost something similar to this value.   Please see below for additional helpful resources: The Cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait by Phillips... Read More

By • August 16, 2017

The following is a video of GMO Answers Expert and Ambassador Katie Pratt discussing why she grows GMOs on her farm. 

 

To see the video on YouTube, please click here

Posted on August 15, 2017
No! However, poor nutrition coupled with highly processed foods and a lack of education regarding healthy eating is bad for our kids. As a mother and farmer, I believe the best way to keep my family safe and healthy is to make sure they eat a balanced diet and make good food choices daily. Fresh, healthy ingredients and minimally processed foods that are low in sugar, salt, calories and cholesterol provide kids with the best opportunity for a healthy diet. Agricultural biotechnology... Read More
Answer:
Posted on August 15, 2017
  On average, the recent research that has been conducted on GMOs, on a per product basis is calculated to be an average of $130 Million (and 13 years). This is a per product average, so each product that reaches commercialization in a given year would also cost something similar to this value.   Please see below for additional helpful resources: The Cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait by Phillips... Read More
Posted on August 15, 2017
The first use of recombinant DNA technology, was created by Cohen and Boyer in 1972 with E.coli in 1972 and this article explains this advancement in biotechnology in greater detail. Here is an excerpt: “Their experiments dramatically demonstrated the potential impact of DNA recombinant engineering on medicine and pharmacology, industry and agriculture.”   Recombinant insulin was the first commercial product derived from genetic engineering techniques created in 1976 by the... Read More

By • August 14, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a blog post from The Farmer's Daughter where she interviews with agronomist Sam Krhovsky about what she does on a daily basis. 

Agronomists are an important part of agriculture, but usually don’t get a lot of recognition. Sam Krhovsky is exactly the kind of person that might change all of that. Naturally, I had to chat with her about what she does and why.

What exactly is an agronomist and what kind of training do you need for that type of job?

I LOVE what I do! It’s definitely a term that most people outside the ag world don’t know….some people assume I study the stars….. The job “agronomist” can vary depending on the farm or company you are working for, but agronomy is the science of producing plants for some type of agricultural purpose, whether its for food, textiles, fiber, etc. In my case, I assist our customers with making management decisions or solving any potential issues with their corn and soybeans. The best way I explained it to my niece: I play Corn Doctor and ask A LOT of questions to get the bottom of a problem or prevent a problem. Are the soybeans looking a little yellow? There could be a lot of reasons why….my job is to figure out that reason and give a prescription to fix it and/or explain how to keep it from happening again.

Training for this job again varies by the company that you work for. In my case at Monsanto, agronomists need to either have a Masters Degree in agriculture or a certain number of years with agricultural sales. Other places may only require a Bachelor’s Degree, or some positions may just want previous experience. All the agronomists I work with have a variety of backgrounds; some of us came straight from graduating with our MS while others works as sales managers in the corn/soybean world for a while. The most important thing you need in this type of job is people skills. You need to be able to communicate efficiently, translate technical information into everyday lingo, and be able to articulate yourself in some tough situations. The best part about working with farmers is they are in a business that they love and have passion for, and you see that every time you walk onto a farm.

Based on your Sassy Agronomist posts I can tell how passionate you are about agriculture. Where does that passion stem from and what gets you excited about farming?

How can you not get excited? When I started putting Sassy Agronomist together, my thought was to give some updates from the field to those already involved in agriculture. My shout out goes to my BFF Cover Crop Gal who encouraged me to go for it. As I started, I began to realize that when I see a lot of agriculture advocacy (or AGvocacy as we tend to call it), there’s not a whole lot that revolves around corn and soybeans. Why not use the page to teach others not just about what I do on a daily basis, but to show what farmers are dealing with? Rather than just posting “hey everyone, gray leaf spot is starting to show up in corn.” I wanted to say “What is gray leaf spot? Why do we care? What do I do about it? Why should YOU care?”

And of course, there’s always some sassy moments. If I learned anything about social media, it’s that funny sells. Especially when you can relate it to real life. Let’s face it, there’s more women in agricultural roles today than there use to be, whether its agronomy, sales, farming, etc. BUT, we technically work in a man’s world. Sometimes we deal with things only other women can understand, like how people don’t recognize me when I’m dressed in normal clothes, or the fact that the agronomy “Sam” is not a 50 year old man with a beard. It’s a ton of fun contrary to what some people might think, and you definitely have to have a good sense of humor to work in this industry!

To read the entire interview, please visit The Farmer's Daughter blog page

Posted on August 15, 2017
  On average, the recent research that has been conducted on GMOs, on a per product basis is calculated to be an average of $130 Million (and 13 years). This is a per product average, so each product that reaches commercialization in a given year would also cost something similar to this value.   Please see below for additional helpful resources: The Cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait by Phillips... Read More
Posted on March 2, 2017
These are definitely questions that many people are asking and researching to come up with answers.  In a day and age when a person can go to their smart phone to find a restaurant or search for directions, our society is definitely accustomed to finding answers quickly.   Unfortunately, complex issues take more time for the scientific community to research and develop answers. History is full of examples such as genetics, which started with the work of Gregor Mendel in 1856 and... Read More
Answer:
Posted on May 6, 2017
A gene with a desirable trait can be moved from one organism to another organism as a means to change it. The traditional way is through selective breeding, which is slow, time consuming, inefficient, and transfers more than one gene, so other unexpected and unwanted traits can cause problems. But genes also can be moved in a laboratory, resulting in what has been called a genetically modified (“transgenic”) organism (GMO). GM technology moves only one gene, eliminating other,... Read More
Answer:

By • August 10, 2017

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

This month, GMO Answers wants to give you a glimpse into the daily lives of some of our volunteer experts who provide answers to your questions about GMOs, agriculture and biotechnology. We learned what a day in the life of a farmer and nutritionist is like in the first two installments. So, in our third installment of our “Day in the Life” series, we asked scientist and GMO Answers volunteer expert Xiaohua Yang, Ph.D., what a typical day in her life is like.

 

Dr. Yang says she’s excited that technologists and investors have increasingly started to look at agriculture as a fertile ground for innovation. (Image Credit: GMO Answers)
 

1. Tell us about yourself – how did you first become interested in science and biotechnology?

Truth be told, I didn’t plan to become a scientist. However, I did find biology more interesting as compared to other STEM fields. I was also told that biotechnology would dominate the 21st century when I entered college. That might have played a role as well.

Through my studies, it did become rather clear to me that my interest lies at the interface of business and technology. I am glad that I am taking that path now.

2. How has your prior experience in research prepared you for your new role at your startup?

I see many similarities between these two endeavors. Both scientists and entrepreneurs need to work with uncertainties constantly. The training as a scientist really taught me how to deal with hard problems, and embedded me with the conviction that “I can figure this out”.

3. How do you think technology and startups like yours benefit farmers and agriculture around the world?

I am excited that top technologists and investors finally started to look at agriculture as a fertile ground for innovation in the past few years.

Farming is an open system with many moving pieces and involved a lot of guess work traditionally. Now with the ability to collect data at different levels and withdraw insights, farmers can make informed decisions regarding what varieties to plant, when to water and how much fertilizers to apply.

Agriculture is also an industry deeply affected by weather. My co-founders and I started Euddia in 2016 to democratize weather insurance. We believe that weather insurance is an important risk management tool to help the farmers make sound economic decisions and better their living standards. This won’t be possible without the data capacity we have today and the prevalence of mobile technology.

 

 

4. How do you spend a typical day?

Let me share with you a good day. I usually get up between 6:00 and 6:30 am and do some yoga or some other full body workout for about 30 mins. Following breakfast (Chinese preferred), I try to do some serious reading about the topics I fancy, such as artificial intelligence or cryptocurrency these days. 

Since our startup team is still small, we don’t really have an office. Thus, my time is spent between home, cafes and adjacent campuses. Somehow it feels like an extension of my PhD days.  Tasks are of course varied. You will find me writing grant proposals to the National Science Foundation (NSF), interviewing farmers at the farmers market or talking to potential people we want to bring on to the team. On the quieter days, I can do some deep work, such as thinking about the crop models we need to develop for the farmers as a value added service. I will probably go out for a run in my favorite Steven Creeks Trail if time permits after our team meeting at 4 pm. 

I still do some work in the evening and am also learning some coding these days. Before bed I rewind with some “less serious” reading. I am a docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and I just started touring an exhibition about Edvard Munch. So, I spend quite a bit of time reading about him these days. Munch is such a well-known yet less understood artist and we have quite a few master pieces exhibiting in the United States for the first time. (So, do plan a visit if you have a chance). Ok, I will stop advertising for SFMOMA now. It is just such an exquisite exhibition.

 

 

If I am behaving, I will hit the hay before 11 pm. Some days I end up watching Netflix, which is not so good for my sleep. I sometimes wonder how these streaming services are affecting our national productivity.

5. What’s something you wish everyone knew about your job?

Let me start with a little story. I was at a museum tour in SFMOMA one day. The docent asked the visitors: “what are the words that come to your mind when you think about scientists? “Boring”, the woman standing next to me blurted out. I was floored and almost shouted out, “scientists are the most interesting people I know!” (I am probably biased, of course).

The media traditionally has portrayed scientists as a weird bunch and most scientists couldn’t care-less to be understood either. However, there is value in this understanding of what we do and what kind of people we are. To say the least, it will help to attract kids to study science, not necessarily to become a scientist, but just to better understand the world. We scientists, collectively, need to become better story tellers.

 

 

6. What do you hope for the future of science and biotechnology?

We are living in an extraordinary time technology wise and I am very excited to see what we will be capable to do in five or ten years. I also hope science and biotechnology make great advances in addressing some of the global issues concerning human existence, such as access to clean water, basic health care and a balanced diet. 

Posted on August 15, 2017
GMO crops are not "banned" in any countries around the world in the normal sense of that word. Usually when something is banned for consumption, etc., it is because some problem emerged that needed a response. The history of regulation for biotech crops is quite different in that there were regulatory approval processes developed long before any such crops were commercialized. The goal was to try to anticipate any potential health or environmental issues and to make... Read More
Answer:
Posted on August 15, 2017
  On average, the recent research that has been conducted on GMOs, on a per product basis is calculated to be an average of $130 Million (and 13 years). This is a per product average, so each product that reaches commercialization in a given year would also cost something similar to this value.   Please see below for additional helpful resources: The Cost and time involved in the discovery, development and authorization of a new plant biotechnology derived trait by Phillips... Read More
Posted on March 2, 2017
These are definitely questions that many people are asking and researching to come up with answers.  In a day and age when a person can go to their smart phone to find a restaurant or search for directions, our society is definitely accustomed to finding answers quickly.   Unfortunately, complex issues take more time for the scientific community to research and develop answers. History is full of examples such as genetics, which started with the work of Gregor Mendel in 1856 and... Read More
Answer:

A species is defined by the ability to reproduce viable offspring, so any two plants within a species generally have the potential to cross pollinate. Like any good successful mating, it requires the union of male and female contributions at the right tim

A species is defined by the ability to reproduce viable offspring, so any two plants within a species generally have the potential to cross pollinate. Like any good successful mating, it requires the union of male and female contributions at the right time, same place. So absolutely, GE crops have the potential to cross with non-GE crops of the same species—if they manage to get it on through time and space. 

 

A species is defined by the ability to reproduce viable offspring, so any two plants within a species generally have the potential to cross pollinate. Like any good successful mating, it requires the union of male and female contributions at the right tim

A species is defined by the ability to reproduce viable offspring, so any two plants within a species generally have the potential to cross pollinate. Like any good successful mating, it requires the union of male and female contributions at the right time, same place. So absolutely, GE crops have the potential to cross with non-GE crops of the same species—if they manage to get it on through time and space. 

 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - GMOs & Farmers