GMOs Globally

By • October 12, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a news story on the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) website on the whole genome sequencing of the white Guinea yam, an important staple crop in Africa. 

In many parts of West Africa, food is not considered food if it is not yam. This explains why yam—also called the “king of crops” in Nigeria, exemplified in Chinua Achebe’s classic novel “Things Fall Apart,” is such a prized food with immense cultural importance.

Yam is a major food source in the tropics providing food and income for some 60 million people.

Despite its importance, relatively little is known about the white Guinea yam (Dioscorea rotundata Poir.), the dominant African yam, at the genetic level. Unlike other staple crops such as wheat and rice, the white Guinea yam is not widely cultivated, leading to its branding as an “orphan crop.”

“The more we understand about the white Guinea yam, the better we will be able to help improve the crop, and help maintain this integral source of nutrition and income in a region undergoing the world’s most rapid population explosion—especially as the demand for yam is currently overwhelming—much more than what we are able to supply,“ said Dr Robert Asiedu, Director for West Africa, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Yam Breeder for about 20 years.

To help improve the white Guinea yam, an international team of scientists from IITA, the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Science (JIRCAS), the Iwate Biotechnology Research Centre (IBRC), Japan, and the Earlham Institute and The Sainsbury Laboratory of the United Kingdom, has finally revealed the full genome sequence of this poorly understood but vitally important crop.

To read the entire story, please visit the IITA website

 

By • October 11, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a report found on the Rothamsted Research website about GMOS and food security. 

Genetic modification of plants will be essential to avert future food shortages, conclude a group of agricultural scientists who have reviewed how biotechnology developments over the past 35 years have shaped the efficiency of crop production.

GM crops able to repel insect pests or to resist herbicides have transformed the farming of soybean, cotton, maize and canola, reducing costs and increasing productivity, but lack of knowledge hinders further improvements in yield, particularly in testing climatic conditions, they say.

Scientists have identified some genes that affect crop yields, such as those influencing grain size and leaf growth, but have still to fully understand the cellular and developmental processes, and how these processes behave in a field environment, they note.

The team, from Rothamsted Research in the UK and from Syngenta Crop Science and Symmetry Bioanalytics in the US, present their review as an online opinion article in Trends in Plant Science.

Click here to read the entire article and here to read the study

By • October 10, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a story from the news service AFP reporting that scientists have genetically engineered corn to produce a specific protein. 

US scientists have found a way to genetically engineer corn to produce an amino acid contained in meat, boosting the nutritional value of one of the world's most important crops.

The process involved inserting a bacterial gene that causes corn to make methionine, a crucial nutrient for the health of skin, nail and hair.

Researchers said the discovery could benefit millions of people in the developing world who depend on corn as a staple, and could reduce animal feed costs, according to the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

"We improved the nutritional value of corn, the largest commodity crop grown on Earth," said co-author Thomas Leustek, professor in the Department of Plant Biology at Rutgers University.

"Most corn is used for animal feed, but it lacks methionine -- a key amino acid -- and we found an effective way to add it."

To read the entire story, please visit the AFP website

 

By • October 09, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a blog post on the religious website Patheos discussing the need for options like GMOs in Uganda, which faces many issues in food and agriculture.    

Most of the readers of this blog are likely evidence-based thinkers and are supportive of science-based solutions for real-world problems. As such, we support the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which we recognize as safe and effective technology. GMOs will be necessary to keep up with future agricultural demands. Our global population continues to increase, while we have nearly maximized our amount of arable land for growing crops, leading to a projected net decrease in cropland per person by 2050. We can design GMOs to become resistant to diseases, help them become more drought-resistant, and even change their cosmetic properties so fewer people discard food unneccessarily, allowing us to get the most food out of our limited arable farmland. GMOs will be necessary for a growing planet with limited resources.

If you’re like me, you may get the sense that GMOs, like renewable energy and emission mitigation, are long-term problems that will require some patience developing technologies and implementing effective political solutions. While we can recognize anti-GMO ideology relies on pseudoscience and we need to push back on that, we may not feel like anti-GMO sentiments are a high political priority compared to many of the other problems we currently face. While long-term goals may be many GMO proponents’ primary goal, there are still problems that we need to deal with now that appear to be much more pressing. However, there are global issues where GMOs are exactly the solution needed, and we need science-based solutions like these as soon as possible.

Uganda is currently facing a massive drought, something that has been occurring since 2016. This has led to record-high temperatures and left millions of Ugandans in need of food aid. This is to be expected when there is a natural crisis like this in Uganda, where 80% of the population is employed in agriculture. Because of reduced rainfall and increased temperature, the drought has been a major contributor to loss in crops like bananas and coffee, and further loss in livestock due to a decrease in feedstocks to help them survive.

This is a problem that severely affects the poor in this country. Once the drought hits, this large population of laborers are the first to be affected, especially if their only source of food and income starts vanishing. GMOs are solutions to these problems, and agricultural laborers should be allowed to have direct access to a wide variety of resistant strains during a time when they need them the most.

To read the entire article, please visit the Patheos website

By • October 04, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a blog post from the editor in chief of the magazine Cosmos explaining how the documentary Food Evolution focuses on evidence-based science. 

In this post-truth era it has never been easier to pick and choose the information that will confirm your own bias.

But societies need to find common ground if we are to solve the most-pressing problems of our time, like feeding the population without destroying the planet.

Science is key to advancing the narrative. That is the message of the documentary Food Evolution, directed by Scott Kennedy and narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Last Wednesday (20 September), after a public screening to an audience of about a hundred in Canberra, I participated in a panel discussion along with Rob Furbank, an expert in plant photosynthesis at Australian National University; Tony Mahar, CEO of the National Farmers’ Federation; Andrew Campbell, CEO of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; and the director himself, Scott Kennedy, via video link. The moderator was Adrienne Francis at ABC News, Canberra.

Kennedy has participated in many such panel discussions since the movie’s release in June.

It is inspiring to see a movie maker attempt to break through the silos of peoples’ preconceived truths. In the final question of the evening, Kennedy was asked how he rated the success of the movie. “The fact that you’re here,” he answered.

I encourage everyone to see the movie.

To read the entire post, please visit the Cosmos website

By • September 26, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article posted to the Australian website Farm Online discussing the recent documentary Food Evolution and how it is changing people's minds about GMOs. 

In the highly emotive landscape of Genetically Modified crops, proponents of the much maligned technology and users like farmers or others with legitimate commercial interests are often portrayed as the evil villains conspiring to inflict some wicked form of gradual poisonous demise on the planet, while rubbing their hands with glee.

In contrast, members of the opposing camp who denounce biotechnology are all too often characterised as glistening champions of truth, protectors of small children, bastions of integrity standing up for everyday people, or white knights seeking to protect the very essence of life itself from being annihilated by GMs.

But in an enlightening new documentary, ‘Food Evolution’, biotech scientists, GM farmers, truth-seekers and pragmatic thinkers with the capacity to respect and acknowledge robust evidence are the ones wearing the white hats while standing in the spotlight, shining a light on truth.
...

Food for thought and central to the documentary’s central theme of changing peoples’ minds and choosing facts over emotional logic is the use of a well-known quote attributed to Mark Twain, in the introduction, ‘It's easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled’.

However, there is ample conjecture among critics to question whether the American writer - whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens and his pen name Mark Twain - actually wrote it, including by the internet urban myth busting site Snopes.

“Doesn't matter, it's still true,” said one Twitter commentator on the quote’s authenticity.

The iconoclastic documentary aired in Canberra last night at an event partnered by the National Rural Press Club and hosted by GMO Only - a new group that says its “views are based on facts”.

An expert panel reflected on the controversial contents of ‘Food Evolution’ afterwards including its Hollywood based director and Academy Award nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy, via Skype, live from his hotel at 5.30am in Washington DC.

To read the entire article, please visit the Farm Online website. 

By • September 22, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a guest column by GMO Answers Expert Janice Person that originally appeared at Forbes.com about some GMOs that people might not know about. 

What are some interesting examples of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Janice Person, worked with & eaten GMO crops since 1996, currently works at Monsanto, on Quora:

With the buzz around genetically modified organisms over the past few years, it seems that not everyone knows about the most interesting GMOs. I have quite a few that I enjoy talking about and I frequently hear people ask why they haven’t heard of them before. So, I’m going to walk through some of my favorites that are the type of genetically engineered products that most people mean when they say GMO.

INSULIN — Few folks think about GMOs in the full set that science does, but insulin is considered the first GMO, before that it was sourced from taking the pancreas from animals. Having had a diabetic or two in my extended family, the ability to produce insulin faster and easier is something really rewarding and I frequently wonder how awesome it would feel to have been on that breakthrough team to develop something that proves to be lifesaving for others.

IN A NUTSHELL — My favorite GMO is probably the American chestnut tree that the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry has been working on. I grew up in a part of the US where chestnut trees were the most abundant trees in America’s Appalachian Mountains. It was an important hardwood during my grandparents’ lives, but the tree was lost as the forests were devastated by a blight. That not only changed the combination of trees, but resulted in shifts of wildlife that fed on American chestnuts. A TEDx session from SUNY researcher Bill Powell does a great job explaining the project and is so compelling that individuals like me have contributed funding.

THE RAINBOW PAPAYA — The 1980s had a disease called the ringspot virus that was attacking papaya farms in Hawaii. There weren’t cultural practices nor fungicides that could control it. Farmers like Ken Kamiya were facing the total loss of their farms and way of life. Some farmers were burning down trees in hopes of controlling the spread. The University of Hawaii worked on in-plant protection through GMOs. Farmers and scientists on the islands have worked hard to get the public to understand, but it has not been easy, as the NY Times shared in this article: A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops. The university developers discuss their work and the public controversy in the recent documentary Food Evolution narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson (astronomer) (available via iTunes and Amazon), which is also where I learned more about the GMO banana in development in Uganda.

DROUGHT-TOLERANT CROPS — Growing food in some parts of the world is easier than others. In areas like sub-Saharan Africa, the lack of available water can make the difference between being able to feed your family and going hungry. In some other areas, having drought-tolerant crops can mean the ability to pay bills versus risk catastrophe if the season is one that doesn’t bring the necessary rain. This video produced by colleagues shows the result of drought-tolerant corn hybrids for a family in Kenya. It makes me incredibly proud to work for Monsanto.

THE GMO I KNOW BEST — For years, I worked in the cotton industry and I remember clearly when the GMO that we commonly call bt. cotton came out. If you have ever driven at night in a part of the world where cotton is grown, you have probably been grossed out by the high number of insects that hit your windshield. Lots of those moths are laying eggs that will become damaging worms if they get established. There are several GMO traits that protect the plants from those worms, resulting in significant drops in the use of insecticides and reducing on-farm risk which farmers have embraced.

BROADER DEFINITION OF GMO — A lot of scientists have trouble with the common understanding of GMOs because genetic modifications don’t always involve biotechnology. If you are willing to think of that, then one of the selection and breeding advances that leaves me wowed is the brassica family. Something that started as wild mustard is now available in many different forms in the produce section of the store, as some people really liked the state of the leaves, others like the blooms, still others liked the buds. From that we get cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and kale, just to name a few.


Another one I love thinking about is how what started out as teosinte has over the course of time become the corn, sweet corn, popcorn, etc. that we love. This is the size teosinte’s cob started out as. That’s my index finger, and the kernels are the small green parts that cross over to the left. That was a cob!

 

 

 

To read this article in its original format, please visit Most People Don't Give These Interesting GMOs The Credit They Deserve at Forbes.com. 

By • September 20, 2017

The following is a video from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) highlighting the need for agricultural innovation to help feed the planet in the future. 

Modern agriculture has made significant contributions to our lives- providing safe, accessible and nutritious foods and beverages. Agricultural innovations, including plant breeding, biotechnology and precision farming will allow the food supply to meet the needs of a growing population.


Please visit the IFIC website for more information. 

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