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Science and public opinion square off in GMO debate

UC scientists are studying sorghum genetics to understand plant drought tolerance. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The biggest disconnect between science and public opinion is the differing view on genetically modified foods, according to Alison Van Eenennaam, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources specialist in animal genetics. Van Eenennaam was quoted in a story reported by Dave Marquis of ABC 10 News in Sacramento.

Van Eenenaam examined 20 years of records on the health and production of livestock populations eating GMO feed and has not found any measurable trends or changes.

"And those field observations agree with the many hundreds of carefully controlled studies that have been done by researchers globally," she said.

The story also raised consumer concerns about genetically modified foods. A Sacrament shopper interviewed for the story said she believes farmers are spraying more pesticides on GMO crops. Van Eenennaam confirmed that crops modified to resist herbicides have encouraged greater use of herbicides and some weeds have become resistant to herbicides as a result. 

"But I would argue that the trade-offs haven't been that significant and, unfortunately, this public concern around it is forestalling the development of what I would argue is much more sustainable plant and animal species," she said.

In her Twitter feed, Van Eenenaam provided links to additional information about the impact of current GMO crops.

One possible benefit of GMOs is helping crops adapt to a warmer world resulting from global climate change, reported Matt Weiser on Vox.

For the article, Weiser spoke to Peggy Lemaux, UC ANR Cooperative Extension biotechnology specialist based at UC Berkeley. Lemaux is the lead researcher on a project aimed at engineering drought resistance into crops — in this case, sorghum. Her goal is to discover how epigenetics, the process by which environmental change triggers new genetic functions, could be used to improve drought tolerance.

If she and her colleagues can figure this out for sorghum, it could be applied to other species such as tomatoes and rice, also part of Lemaux's research, through genetic engineering or by inducing mutations using radiation or chemicals.

Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 at 11:13 AM
Tags: Alison Van Eenennaam (25), GMOs (12), GMOs (12), Peggy Lemaux (7)

Comments:

1.
They say GMOs (which we should actually call GEOs - genetically engineered crops) help crops adapt to a warmer climate and drought? Crops will do that either way. That is what they do through evolution. That is how they evolved and how their genes are forever modified by our environment and the current conditions. Don't you think?  
 
This arrogance of people thinking they can control the outcome is all it is - hubris.  
 
Instead of taking care of what we have,for example the bees, we have people building electric robot bees. Because robot bees you can sell and so then you make profit.

Posted by Ana on January 27, 2016 at 9:20 AM

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