Modern Agriculture

By • October 13, 2017

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

 

GMOs have proven to be safe to eat and beneficial for the environment. They continue to play an important role in the future of our food system and planet. (Image Credit: GMO Answers)

From the beginning, GMO Answers has always encouraged consumers to participate in conversations about GMOs when it comes to making decisions about the food they eat.

Each October, GMO Answers celebrates “Get to Know GMOs Month,” sparking the conversation in a new way by diving into the most common questions and misconceptions about GMOs. This year’s Get to Know GMOs Month is dedicated to finding new ways to engage consumers about GMOs and biotechnology, specifically related to innovation in the field.

From concerns about the safety of GMOs, their impact on the environment and how GMOs are made, understanding the basics and science behind genetically modified crops is vital to ensuring a sustainable future for all.   

Get the Facts on GMOs

GMOs are safe for people and animals to eat, as the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) confirmed in a 2016 report. They provide many benefits to the environment, including reduced carbon emissions, improved soil health and water conservation. And contrary to what many may think, GMOs are not new. GMOs are created through a modern plant breeding process, where a desired trait, like disease resistance, is taken from one plant or organism and transferred to another. This technology has been around for decades and farmers have selectively cultivated plants for thousands of years.

Even more, GMOs and biotechnology play a crucial role to help sustain our planet’s future. GMOs are one of modern agriculture’s many innovations that allow farmers to grow more food with fewer resources.

How You Can Get Involved

Last year GMO Answers conducted a nationwide survey to gather consumers' top ten questions about GMOs, then hit the streets of Washington, DC, to engage people about GMOs. We found that most people were aware of the benefits GMOs provide the environment and food system, but there is a lot more to learn.

 

This year, to drive online engagement, GMO Answers launched a Facebook quiz that tests your knowledge about GMOs, as well as our GMO Innovation Contest – an online video contest designed to encourage anyone to "Get to Know GMOs" by identifying food and environmental challenges that could be solved using biotechnology. More information about the Innovation Contest can be found at InnovationContest.GMOAnswers.com.

GMO Answers’ mission has always been to engage with the public in these crucial conversations, and we’ll continue to answer any questions about how our food is grown. This October is the time to learn the facts and Get to Know GMOs!

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 12, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article in the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper about efforts to save the redwood and giant sequioa trees through genetic engineering. 

Redwood trees, those ancient living monuments to California’s past, are as mysterious to science as they are magnificent, so a team of researchers led by a San Francisco conservation group is attempting to unlock the genetic secrets of the towering conifers.

Scientists affiliated with the nonprofit Save the Redwoods League are attempting for the first time to sequence the genomes of coast redwood trees and their higher-elevation cousins, the giant sequoias, a complex and expensive undertaking that experts hope will help preserve the trees’ ancient groves as the climate changes over the next century.

The five-year, $2.6 million Redwood Genome Project is the most intensive scientific study ever done on the state’s famous primeval forests. The goal is to enable scientists to maintain forest resiliency and genetic diversity by choosing the most robust, adaptable genes when planting or doing regeneration or habitat protection work.

“This is by far the greatest challenge that anyone has taken on (relating to redwoods), and it has an infinite number of uses,” said David Neale, a UC Davis plant scientist and the projects’ lead researcher. “These conifers are very, very old and have been accumulating DNA for millions of years.”

Sequencing the coast redwood genome will be especially difficult, he said, because it is 10 times larger than the human genome. Coast redwoods, for instance, have six sets of chromosomes compared with two for humans, an evolutionary adaptation that researchers believe helped the trees adjust successfully to changing conditions over thousands of years.

To read the entire article, please visit the San Francisco Chronicle 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 11, 2017

The following is an excerpt of a blog post by registered dietitian Rosanne Rust at the blog Chew the Facts about the new non-browning apple arriving in selected stores this fall

Soon, there will be a new apple in town. It tastes great, and won’t brown. The first question that many people ask is “Why would we need a non-browning apple?” So let me start there…

Have you ever cut into a perfect looking apple to see that it’s brown and soft inside? Have you ever sliced a bunch of apples for a fruit tray, and even though you squeezed lemon juice on them, some of them still turn brown? Would you like to chop apples into your salads without them turning brown? Have you ever spent time packing lunches for your children in the morning, only to find the bag of sliced apples come home uneaten at the end of the day?

Arctic Apples® won’t do that. Having a non-browning apple on the market will not only curb food waste, but it opens up opportunities for new recipes utilizing apples. Apples are great sources of fiber, vitamins C, and potassium.

  • Fewer apples wasted (currently about 40% of apples grown are wasted)
  • Less water and fuel
  • Higher quality apples reduces loss

To read more about these apples and how they can help with environmental and sustainability issues, please visit the Chew the Facts website

 

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 09, 2017

The following is an excerpt of an article in the MIT Technology Review about the launch of a new non-browning genetically modified apple. 

The modified Golden Delicious apples were developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, a privately owned company acquired for $41 million in 2015 by the Maryland biotech Intrexon. Other divisions of that company are already marketing genetically modified salmon, cloned cattle, and self-destructing mosquitoes.

The company plans to sell the apples as bags of pre-sliced fruit but say they will not be labeled as “produced with genetic engineering” and will not come with any other packaging identifying them as GMOs. Instead, as allowed under a 2016 labeling law, there will be a QR code that links to a Web page with detailed information on how the apples were made.

“We didn’t want put ‘GMO’ and a skull and crossbones on the package,” Neal Carter, Okanagan’s founder, said this week, during a presentation in San Francisco.

A package of golden delicious apple slices. The fruit has been genetically modified so they don't turn brown.

The GM apple is notable partly because Carter, an apple grower and farming innovator, independently developed it and won regulatory approval to sell it. Most GMOs have been developed and marketed as seeds by large corporations like Monsanto or DuPont and involve large-acre crops like soybeans and corn.

Using a technique called gene silencing, Carter and his research team engineered the apple’s DNA to produce less polyphenol oxidase, or PPO, the enzyme that causes the flesh to turn brown. Carter says slices of the engineered apples can stay free of browning as long as three weeks.

To read the entire article, please visit the MIT Technology Review website

By • October 06, 2017

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

By Brent Erickson. Brent Erickson is Executive Vice President for the Industrial and Environmental Section at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).

 

Ethanol produced form GM corn is important for farmers, consumers and the environment. (Image Credit: GMO Answers)

When you think about GMOs, you probably think about the food you buy at the grocery store. But what about the car that brought you to the store?

What you might not know is that GMOs, and particularly GMO corn, are a big part of today’s fuel supply.

Every time you fill up your car, you’re probably putting ethanol – mainly made from corn in the United States, which is most often GM – in your tank. Right now, when you go to the pump, you probably have one choice: E10 (gasoline blended with 10 percent ethanol). If you have a flex-fuel vehicle, you might look for E85 (gasoline blended with 85 percent ethanol). And in some parts of the country, you might find E15 (gasoline blended with 15 percent ethanol) or other mid-range blends. 

 

Brent Erickson, Executive Vice President for the Industrial and Environmental Section at BIO. (Image Credit: BIO)

Ethanol is traditionally made from corn, though ‘second generation biofuels’ are now being produced from cellulosic biomass. Corn is converted to ethanol through a process of hydrolysis (converting corn starch and possibly hemicellulose to sugar), fermentation and distillation, creating a fuel that is more sustainable, with less environmental impact, than petroleum-based gasoline.

So why use GM corn? Because certain biotech corn varieties make biofuels production more efficient, by improving the way cellulose and starch are brken down. The advantages are not so different from the advantages of using GM technology for food – corn can be genetically modified to produce more ethanol from the corn, while using less energy and water. Syngenta’s Enogen® corn is engineered to contain its own amylase, the enzyme that converts corn starch into sugar – an innovation that eliminates the need for producers to add amylase later in the production process. In a 100-million-gallon ethanol plant, using Enogen® corn can save more than 68 million gallons of water, nearly 10 million KWh of electricity, and more than 350 billion BTU’s of natural gas while reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100 million pounds.

The ability to select for desired traits more quickly and accurately saves time and money, benefiting farmers and customers. And added efficiency reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The use of biotech crops, in 2015 alone, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 26.7 billion kilograms – the equivalent of 11.9 cars on the roads.

And now, ethanol producers have found ways to be even more efficient, by using corn kernel fiber and corn stover – the stalks, leaves and cobs left in fields after harvest – to produce ethanol as well. 

Through these benefits, ethanol derived from biotech corn helps protect our environment. From 2005 to 2015, the use of biofuels like ethanol reduced U.S. transportation-related carbon emissions by 589 million metric tons – the equivalent to removing more than 124 million cars from the road over that decade. Corn ethanol reduces transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent compared to gasoline.

And, ethanol helps increase our energy independence and security by lessening our need for foreign oil. U.S. dependence on foreign oil has fallen by more than half since 2005,  527 million barrels of crude oil

Ethanol makes our gasoline cheaper at the pump. It’s now blended into 97 percent of our fuel supply, helping protect us from spikes in oil prices, like the spike many Americans are seeing now because of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

These benefits can’t be overlooked – ethanol is important for farmers, consumers and the environment. GMOs aren’t just for food; they also help fuel the world. 

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