Interview with Dr. Gia Aradottir

In England, there is an important experiment underway. A research group at the Rothamsted Research station in Harpenden, is testing a variety of wheat that has been genetically engineered to scare away aphid pests. If successful, the experiment could demonstrate the effectiveness of a novel, environmentally-friendly way to manage pests. However, a protest group is threatening the ability of the researchers to continue their project, and there have been a lot of claims made about the research. To help shed some light on this experiment, I interviewed Dr. Gia Aradottir, a biologist who is involved in the project.

KJHvM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to work at Rothamsted and on this project? What is your role in the project?

GA: I’m the newest member of the GM wheat team, I joined the E-β-farnesene project a year and a half ago. I did my PhD jointly at Rothamsted Research and Imperial College London where my work focused on the giant willow aphid (Tuberolachnus salignus), chemical ecology and population genetics. My PhD project was partly supervised by the chemical ecology group and when I had the opportunity to join, I jumped at the chance. We have a fantastic team of people working together, and a lot of interdisciplinary possibilities with the different departments within Rothamsted and the wider scientific community. We work on a number of projects, and my contribution to this particular project has been insect behavioural studies and analysis of the volatile profiles of the GM wheat.

KJHvM: Can you explain the experiment for our readers? What is the nature of the trait, how it works, and how it could change wheat production if it is successful? How important is this research?

GA: I like to say that we are helping plants to protect themselves against insects. The trait engineered into the wheat plant is the volatile emission of the aphid alarm pheromone (E)-β-farnesene (EBF). Semiochemicals such as EBF are chemical messages which are used generally by insects and in this case by aphids, both in gathering information about their environment and in signalling to each other. When an aphid is attacked by a predator it emits EBF from its cornicles, which is recognised by the other aphids as an alarm pheromone, so they can escape. (E)-β-farnesene is present in many plant species, but is normally emitted in combination with other plant volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Research by our group has shown the importance of blends and ratios of plant VOCs to insect responses, and the fact that wheat emits almost no other volatiles means that we can fool the aphids into thinking the wheat emitted EBF comes from a fellow aphid. The second line of defence comes from aphid predators that have come to recognise EBF as a cue that there are aphids in the area, and are attracted in by the aphid alarm signal. We have tested insect responses to two GM events in the lab, where we observed very good responses to the traits by both aphids and predators. If this works equally well in the field, this wheat would be protected against the diseases and yield losses caused by aphids. This would reduce the need for chemical input by the farmer, avoid collateral damage of beneficial insects caused by use of insecticides, and contribute to sustainable agriculture.

KJHvM: How is this strategy different from the kinds of GE traits that people may be more familiar with? Can traits like this be employed in a large number of crops?

GA: This method would affect the behaviour of the insect by changing the way the plant smells, making it avoid its host-plant, and is therefore a non-toxic method of pest management. The reason this could work well in the aphid-wheat system is because wheat doesn’t emit many other VOCs, so the aphid perceives it as a pure alarm pheromone. It might be possible to use similar traits in other insect-plant systems, but as pest insects often specialise on only one or few host-plants, and the volatile profile of each plant species is different, each system would need to be studied separately.

KJHvM: What kinds of other changes might happen to the wheat as a result of this new trait? Does it alter the flavor, texture, yield, or other properties of the plants? What do you know about this genetically engineered wheat already, and what are you hoping to achieve with the trial?

Wheat plants, credit: KJHvM

GA: There are no phenotypic changes in the GM wheat plants compared with the control plants. Over 400 plants already produce EBF. Three new proteins are made by the GM plants which are all widely occurring in nature, non-toxic and non-allergenic, posing no safety concerns that we know of. The proteins are (E)-β-farnesene synthase, farnesyl pyrophosphate synthase and phosphinothricin acetyltransferase. The first two are common proteins found in many organisms (some that are part of the food and feed chains). The third is a bacterial protein used as a selectable marker but is not needed for aphid resistance and could be removed before commercialisation. We will do further measurements on the quality, yield etc at the harvest of the field trial. We have had very positive results in laboratory experiments and by doing this trial in field conditions we want to establish whether the EBF emission by the wheat plants significantly alters aphid behaviour, repelling them away from the plants, as well as attracting aphid predators into the crop in an open air situation. This has the potential to become a non-toxic method of pest control.

KJHvM: What kinds of changes might be expected to happen with aphid populations? What do we know about the ability of aphids to adapt to constant exposure to this pheromone?

GA: Our field trial is only being conducted at a very small scale. There are only eight 6x6m plots of GM wheat planted, so this will not have any effect on aphid populations. At present aphids are controlled using pesticides, which do collateral damage to other beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and parasitic wasps. Any pest management system will eventually experience a level of resistance. However, in this case the level of defence is twofold, if the aphids become habituated to their own alarm pheromone they would not be able to warn each other of danger. Because adapted aphids would be more vulnerable to predators, there will be a selective pressure on the aphids to keep responding to the alarm pheromone.

(Editor’s Note: This paper describes how one aphid species experiences fitness costs after becoming habituated to E-β-farnesene. Fearless aphids get eaten by Ladybugs. Also see this video that shows how aphids react to this pheromone.)

KJHvM: There has been some confusion about the nature of the genetic change. I understand that one gene came from peppermint, but some people have been talking about its similarity to a gene from cows. Can you unravel this confusion? Is the sequence publicly available for making comparisons?

 

Rhopalosiphum padi is afraid, very afraid.

GA: Our plants contain two functional, codon-optimised, synthetic genes but the ACRE (UK Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment) consent process specifically requires the applicant to name the ‘source organism’ of the genes being transferred. We questioned this exact point with ACRE and, although the DNA added to wheat was chemically-synthesised and not actually taken from any organism, we were required to name the closest match in our application. The EBF synthase gene is based on the peppermint gene and that is the closest match. We purposefully chose an animal form of the FPP synthase gene because there was evidence that the enzyme would function more efficiently and that it was less likely to be down-regulated by the plant. We happen to base our synthetic FPP gene on a sequence that encodes the cow form of the enzyme, although FPP synthase is found in many animals and plants and we are currently looking to see whether plant versions would work just as effectively. Thus, there is a tiny piece of genetic material in one of our GM lines that has some sequence similarity with a cow gene. But it is not from a cow and was synthesised in the lab. The field trial will compare the performance of that line with another line that only has the peppermint based gene. It may not be necessary to continue development of that line if the peppermint based gene is shown to perform well on its own. We also need to keep in minds that this is an experimental system, to test a concept. It is not a plant that is being grown for food. Synthetic genes as this is common practice in molecular biology experiments now (quicker, cheaper and easier to use in an experimental system). The wheat from this experiment will be cultivated, measured and destroyed in accordance with stipulations made by ACRE. It is not designed for human consumption. Even if the experiment does repel aphids under field conditions as well as it has done under our extensive laboratory experiments (we will not know this until after the experiment), then many more years of continued carefully controlled experimentation will be required, including looking at the precise DNA sequences used. The actual sequence used in the GM plants has not been published yet, but will be included in a future publication.

KJHvM: I understand that a group of protesters calling themselves “Take the Flour Back” are objecting to this trial, and are threatening to vandalize the wheat on or before May 27. I also understand that a significant part of the budget is being spent on security. Was this response expected? Are you confident that you would be able to protect the trial?

Is Take the Flour Back pro-aphid?

GA: When we heard about the protest we contacted the organisers to ask if we could be of assistance on the day of protest and establish a dialogue. It was only later that we heard they were planning to destroy the experiment. If someone is intent on destroying the trial at any cost, they will find a way to do so. However, we hope that by appealing to the protesters and explaining the work we do, they will see the real benefits this could provide to sustainable agriculture in the future. It is upsetting to think that the work may be compromised, but we cannot go into the future building bigger fences around our research. We need to be able to conduct experiments openly in a safe and responsible manner. The plot is surrounded by a perimeter fence that has been erected to prevent the entry of rabbits, other large mammals, and unauthorised people to the site. There is also a security guard on duty at all times. The value of the whole project is £732.000 and an additional £245.000 was provided for security measures.

KJHvM: What progress has been made starting a dialogue with the protesting group?

GA: We sent a letter and a video message to the protesters, asking them to reconsider their planned attack on our experiment. They have written back to us saying they would welcome the opportunity to engage in a public debate with us. We have contacted them twice since to arrange a public debate, but are still awaiting a reply.

 

KJHvM: What can scientists and other supporters do to show their support, or even help on May 27 (or after) if the protesters ultimately decide to try to destroy the experiment? Will there be a counter-protest?

GA: We are very grateful for all the support we have received from the public which has included people from all walks of life not just scientists. The best way for people to show their support is by signing petition that sense about science started upon seeing our video and letter http://www.senseaboutscience.org/pages/rothamsted-appeal.html. I do not think a counter protest on the day, however well-meaning, will actually help as it is likely to increase tensions and confuse issues. We recommend that anyone who wants to support us does not come down on the day, but instead show their support via other channels before the protest day. A handful of our scientists will be available on the day to engage in dialogue with the protesters and we will do what we can to facilitate a peaceful protest. We should leave it in the very capable hands of the police who will deal with anyone who breaks the law.

KJHvM: Where can people go to find out more information?

GA: General information about the trial can be found on the Rothamsted Research website: http://www.rothamsted.ac.uk/Content.php?Section=AphidWheat

Here are also links to the key publications on the project: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v302/n5909/abs/302608a0.html http://www.pnas.org/content/103/27/10509

http://jxb.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/2/537

http://www.springerlink.com/content/j438j82621156271/?MUD=MP

And finally, here is a link to our petition where we ask people to support our right to conduct research without the threat of it being destroyed: http://www.senseaboutscience.org/pages/rothamsted-appeal.html

KJHvM: Some of these questions came from the Biofortified Blog community, and I have also asked Dr. Aradottir to stick around for the discussion and help address any other questions our readers might have. Her research group is very busy both with their experiments and also with the enormous amount of media attention that this experiment has attracted. (I signed their online petition when there were only 30 people on it, and now supporters number over 4,000.) We are very lucky to have this kind of detailed information during this developing story, and for that I am very thankful to Dr. Aradottir and everyone else who contributed.

Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He currently works as a public research geneticist in Madison, WI. His favorite produce might just be squash.


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26 comments to Interview with Dr. Gia Aradottir

  • I’ve been watching the signatures come in to the petition and I’ve really been impressed with the range of people supporting your work.

    Have any leading “environmental” organizations made statements to the protestors to ask them for civility? I’d like to see that.

    Earlier today I saw a UK Green pol who said she was planning to join the protest, and I was horrified to think she’d contribute to destruction of the work.

    • Who was the Green pol who said that she would join the protest?

      Perhaps a broader campaign would be a good idea, to try to get environmental organizations to opine on such acts of vandalism. Maybe some of the scientists who often support anti-GE campaigns would be interested to condemn these acts? I know of one such person who is vocally anti-GE and also said that Greenpeace was wrong to destroy the wheat trial in Australia.

  • With respect to “GreenJennyJones”, measures are in place for containment of pollen, wheat is self-pollinating, the trial is very small (eight 6m x 6m plots) and the gene only makes a chemical that is non-toxic and is already made naturally by many plants. It is sad that a Green MP takes a negative view of something designed to reduce the need for pesticides. I wonder what Rachel Carson would have thought of the new plants.

    • Toby, can you tell me more about your containment measures? I have done field research with biotech traits in corn before at Iowa State in the US. I’m really curious to compare and contrast our methods with what you are doing, based on the different species and the different regulations in each country. I’d also be interested to learn what other methods anyone else is using. We used the following:

      1) Planted the experimental corn corn 2-3 weeks later than nearby farms planted their corn so our pollen wouldn’t shed until nearby corn had already been pollinated (and wouldn’t accept any more pollen).
      2) Planted tall hybrid corn around our whole field, so any stray pollen would stick there instead of leaving the field, this was planted a week before planting the experimental corn so it would be fully grown before the experimental corn started shedding pollen.
      3) Planted sorghum around the hybrid corn border to trap any stray pollen that isn’t caught by the hybrid corn. It also serves as a barrier to people and larger animals because sorghum grows with lots of stalks close together. Also done about a week before planting the experimental corn.
      4) Located our experimental field far away from any other corn, I think it was at least 600 meters. The fields next to us were all planted in soy, which grows much shorter than corn so it is easy to see any volunteer corn plants.
      5) We scouted every other week for volunteer corn plants in the soy fields and rouged (killed) any that we saw. This was done so that if any pollen did get past the hybrid corn and the sorghum it couldn’t pollinate these volunteer plants.
      6) Once everything was dried up and harvested, the fields were plowed under so any remaining corn kernels would rot. The following spring, the fields were sprayed with herbicide to kill anything that had sprouted. Soybeans were planted there, and the field was checked for volunteer corn every other week.

      We had to fill out a lot of paperwork with the USDA at least a month before planting. They had to approve it before we were allowed to plant. A few weeks after planting (but before the plants were adults) the USDA came out to inspect our site to make sure all of our containment methods were proper. If they had found any mistakes they would have made us kill our plants before they started shedding pollen, and we would have been in big trouble, probably not allowed to plant again without way more strict oversight.

    • Actually, we know what Rachel Carson thought:

      “A truly extraordinary variety of alternatives to the chemical control of insects is available. Some are already in use and have achieved brilliant success. Others are in the stage of laboratory testing. Still others are little more than ideas in the minds of imaginative scientists, waiting for the opportunity to put them to the test. All have this in common: they are biological solutions, based on the understanding of the living organisms they seek to control and of the whole fabric of life to which these organisms belong. Specialists representing various areas of the vast field of biology are contributing—entomologists, pathologists, geneticists, physiologists, biochemists, ecologists—all pouring their knowledge and their creative inspirations into the formation of a new science of biotic controls.”

      http://bit.ly/IHmG0n

  • Dave Thomas

    We seem to be hearing very little from farmers who’ve actually been growing the stuff. I recommend this video by a Cornish farmer who went to America to ask farmers about their experiences of growing GM crops:

    • Dave, “GM” is a method of plant breeding than can be used to create many different kinds of traits. The trait being discussed here for aphid resistant wheat has never been done before. The trait in the film is herbicide resistance which has nothing to do with this aphid resistance, other than the method in which the trait got there. Now, herbicide resistant trait does have some problems* but it just doesn’t make sense to attribute those problems to a totally different trait that has nothing to do with herbicides. Instead, this wheat, if successful, will reduce the need for insecticide. Do you have any specific concerns with this trait?

      *Mainly that it encouraged farmers to use just one kind of herbicide, instead of many different types of weed control, which did lead to weeds evolving resistance to that one type of herbicide.

    • Florencio

      Hi Anastasia,
      I think your answer is perhaps too simple. Certainly you are talking about a different trait and a different genetically modified gene approach. However, both strategies have many things in common. They are simple monogenic or oligogenic strategies and and the new trait is dominant. They are generally the type of strategy that nature will overcome in a few years with the additional problem of gene flow. They are also strategies that will belong to single patent owners. They will work for a few years, will make a few ones rich or more rich and will generate new problems for what new strategies will have to be searched. This is the phylosophy behind the movie recommended by Dave.
      Of ocurse you will say that this is at least a solution, it is true, but it is not a durable solution. Durable solutions are much more difficult to find because they are complex, they rely on multiple strategies and on they need a lot of knowledge and experience with nature.

      • A simple response to a simple comment. Let’s see if I can provide a suitably complex response to your comment. :)

        “They are generally the type of strategy that nature will overcome in a few years with the additional problem of gene flow.”

        The two prevalent biotech traits on the market are Bt (insect resistant) and Roundup Ready (glyphosate resistant). There have been some incidences of resistance developing both in insects to Bt and in weeds to glyphosate – this resistance is simply selection for mutants insects that can resist Bt or mutant weeds that can resist glyphosate. The only case of resistance that has resulted from gene flow (maybe) is in the case of Roundup Ready canola.

        I say maybe because if I recall correctly the issue was canola growing along roadsides which may have either 1) spilled from trucks carrying seed or 2) any canola in the roadsides simply evolved resistance to the glyphosate that is frequently used to control weeds there. In either of these cases, gene flow from GM canola to wild non GM canola wouldn’t be the origin of resistance.

        Regardless, gene flow from wheat is extremely unlikely for all of the reasons that the Rothamsted team has discussed in detail already.

        “They are simple monogenic or oligogenic strategies and and the new trait is dominant.”

        So far, all GM traits on the market are dominant. GM crops, except for the newer “stacked” lines, carry single gene biotech traits. Stacking is actually a way to prevent resistance from developing. In the case of Bt, it is possible to create multiple Bt proteins that affect the same insect so that it is less likely that one insect would have all of the mutations necessary to be resistant to each of the Bts. In the case of Roundup Ready, it would have been much more difficult for resistance to develop if farmers had been able to rotate herbicides but still have the convenience of the resistant crop. Resistance can also be controlled simply by rotating on and off of the pest control method. Unfortunately, GM crops have been so successful that farmers have not wanted to rotate off.

        “Durable solutions are much more difficult to find because they are complex, they rely on multiple strategies and on they need a lot of knowledge and experience with nature.”

        This new trait is completely different than either Bt or Roundup Ready because it utilizes a strategy that exists in nature already. It is a more durable solution because it follow the example of something found in nature. If the aphids were to evolve to change, they would be giving up one of their strategies to avoid predation. They’d have to evolve not only new avoidance pheromones but also new receptors for that pheromone. Also, aphids will still be using the same pheromone successfully on the edges of fields and other areas, so any plant besides wheat will be a refuge, which will go a long way to reducing possibility of resistance.

        “They are also strategies that will belong to single patent owners.”

        Except that the researchers here are working with public funding and have explained that their work is in the public domain. They may license the trait to a company for further development, but that’s not a good argument to stop this work. Protection of intellectual property in the form of plant and animal genetics has been around for a long time, way before biotechnology. See: The history of patenting life.

  • Anastasia, I haven’t got the details with me now but will try and post them on Monday

  • Anastasia, about the containment measures, approved by ACRE (the UK Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment):
    • The probability of seeds moving from the trial site or the transfer (via cross-pollination) of inserted characteristics to sexually-compatible species outside the trial area is estimated as very low. Wheat seeds and wheat pollen grains are relatively large and not normally dispersed by wind.
    • Wheat is a self-pollinating crop with very low rates of cross-pollination even with other wheat plants.
    • Wheat flowers fertilise themselves before they open. Excess pollen, which is heavy and lives for only a few hours, then falls to the ground around the plant.
    • Studies have shown that cross pollination to other wheat varieties within the same field is up to 3.4%, however, only trace levels occur outside the field because wheat pollen is heavy and does not move far (Rieben et al. 2011; PLoS ONE 6(12): e29730).
    • The Matus-Cádiz et al. paper (2007; Crop Science 47:573–581) supports our risk assessment that outcrossing is a very rare event. The ‘pollen source’ for this experiment was a very large area of Purendo-38 (33 ha in 2002 and 20 ha in 2003). They collected large numbers seeds from surrounding fields. In the majority of samples they found no out-crossing but in a very few fields (4 out of a total of 143 fields tested over two years), they found trace levels of outcrossing; 4 positive seeds out of 33 310 seeds tested, 1 out of 28396, 3 out of 28 396, and 1 out of 19 218.
    • Our trial has a much smaller area of only eight 6m x 6m GM plots.

    We have put in place strict management procedures to minimise the spread of seeds or pollen, which will further reduce the probability of these events occurring.
    • The seed drills will be filled on the trial area and will be thoroughly cleaned before leaving the trial area.
    • The GM plots will be separated from the edge of the trial by 10 meters of barley (or space) plus a 3 metre ‘pollen barrier’ of wheat that helps to contain pollen from the GM plants within the trial site. All these plants are treated as though they are GM and harvested /destroyed at the end of the trial. There will be no cereals grown for 20 metres outside the boundary of the site and no wild relatives of wheat that can cross with our cultivated variety exist in the vicinity.
    • Couch grass species, distant relatives of wheat will be controlled in a 20 metre wide area around the trial site to avoid any slight possibility of cross-pollination.
    • All small seed samples removed from the trial site will eventually be destroyed by an approved technique. The remainder of the site will be harvested by either a combine. The grain obtained will be disposed of to deep landfill using an approved contractor. All straw will be chopped and left on site. The combine will be cleaned in the empty half of the fenced area prior to leaving the site so that all traces of plant material will remain in the trial area. The trial area will remain in stubble for the following year to enable monitoring of volunteers and a broad spectrum herbicide such as glyphosate will be applied as required.
    • The site will be monitored regularly during the growing period (Mar-Aug/Sept) and after the termination of the trial during the following year. Records will be kept of each visit.
    • In addition to all this, the actual chances of successful establishment of these wheat plants outside the plot in the wild are extremely low as they are naturally not very competitive with other plants.
    • There is no risk to the nearby Park Grass experiment at Rothamsted. Clearly we would not do anything to compromise the safety of the Park Grass experiment. You can actually see from this that we genuinely believe the trial is of minimal risk. Why would we be willing to put it near to our historic field site if we thought there was some danger?

    Further information is on our publically available ACRE application:
    http://archive.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/gm/regulation/documents/11-r8-01-app-a.pdf

    Hyperlink to the Rieben et al paper:
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029730

    Hyperlink to the Matus-Cádiz et al. paper:
    https://www.crops.org/publications/cs/abstracts/47/2/573

    • Thank you so much for answering in such great detail! It is very interesting to see how some containment measures are similar (barrier of the same species to “soak up” pollen, cleaning the planting equipment) despite being a different species in a different country. But of course, biology is biology :) I hope these strict containment measures will help people to understand how careful you are being. You know the risks in great detail, and know how to mitigate them. It seems to me that the biggest risk that is difficult to mitigate is people trampling the field and messing up the containment measures!

      • With regard to your first point, the wheat was planted in March. I can’t find the exact date but it was reported by The Telegraph on 29 March as being ‘last week’, so sometime around 22nd March. While it appears (propaganda?) that spring wheat in the UK is planted January – March, according to the UK site http://www.brockwell-bake.org.uk/plant_wheat_teachers.pdf spring wheat is usually planted in March.

        Presumably the reason they chose spring wheat was there is less grown in the UK.

        • Ewan R

          Presumably the reason they chose spring wheat was there is less grown in the UK.

          For someone who spends so much time waffling on about this you’d think you might have actually taken the time to read about the bloody stuff.

          I am 95% sure (and too lazy to go back and look right now) that the researchers have explicitly stated their reasons for using spring wheat.

          Unsurprisingly your presumption above is utterly off the mark.

  • Gia Aradottir

    We have been very happy with the response to the petition. We have had a lot of support from people from all walks of life, including many farmers, who realise the potential benefit of this work.

    My colleague Toby has replied to the specifics of the work, and it’s interesting to hear of the containment measures from the corn field trial in Iowa.

  • Gay Timmons

    I would like anyone (with credibility and brains) to address the wisdom of having a very small number of mega-corporations control the food supply. So few can afford to finance this type of research and this means that the ownership of these seeds is limited to a very, lofty few. This just seems anathema to me when considered in the context of “food security”.

    Anyone? Where is the wisdom and safety in this? Thank you.

    • Actually outside the U.S. there are a lot of governments working on genetic engineering projects, and there are a few examples of non-corporate-owned GE crops. Virus-resistant papayas are one example, which was done by the University of Hawaii and Cornell, jointly. The USDA also has a virus-resistant plum which is going through the approval process. In Brazil, the government supported a project to produce a genetically engineered bean, which will be freely available to farmers. Although the first GE crops were mostly produced by companies, a lot of independent nations will quickly overtake this trend. There are even small companies working on crops, such as the non-browning apple.
      Also, a few companies do not “control the food supply.” They don’t even control the seed supply. Six companies have a major share of the commercial seed market, however, there are still the public seed supplies and saved-and-exchanged seed supplies, which are together bigger than the commercial seed market.
      I have a question for you, as it seems that the issue of corporate dominance is important to you. A significant amount of money is being spent on security for the wheat trial at Rothamsted that is being threatened with vandalism. If anti-GE groups keep destroying public experiments such as this, it will drive the costs even higher – making it harder for cash-strapped public programs from getting off the ground, whereas Monsanto et al can pay for all the security they need. Given this, do you think destroying this public experiment will put genetic engineering more in the hands of large corporations or less?

    • Doesn’t it seem particularly absurd to destroy public research then?

  • Gay Timmons

    I am in the US so my experience is with a corn and soy crop that is already at or close to 90% contaminated with some unspecified amount of gmo-material. This makes me concerned about the maintenance of a diverse gene pool – but, that horse is out of the barn, as they say.

    As to your questions – I am not an advocate of destruction of anything. As to the money used to fight protesters, I am afraid that is the by-product of a free society. I don’t advocate but I recognize the conflict – that is why this whole article was written. RE the tendency for governments to give up the research because of the cost due to destruction, I don’t know enough about the dynamics of your public research systems to respond responsibly.

    Monsanto has a round-up ready wheat. Am sure other companies are also working on some sort of GM Wheat.

    A big issue continues to be the ownership of the genes and the implications for seed-collectors and farmers who could be sued for patent infringement. I don’t know the laws where you are. I do know that labeling is required in the EU members for GM derived food. Here, that is not the case. No one knows and therefore, no one has the right to make an informed choice.

    Liberty, commerce, and science have collided and it is messy.

    Human beings mostly don’t like change – I suppose if I were changing something as mysterious to most people as the genetic code is, I’d expect some push back. Fear has a way of doing that and until people are not afraid of this type of work, they will protest and probably be destructive. We all make choices – if we are lucky and thoughtful, they are informed choices.

    That is exactly what this sort of forum affords us all, for that, I thank you.

  • Mandamus

    Whenever I read about stuff like this I’m concerned about the changes they’re making to food.. The stuff I eat. Breeding new strains is one thing, but mucking about with the DNA in a lab is something else.. I’m not being alarmist here.. At least I’m trying not to be. I don’t think there’s been enough long term studies on the effects of eating GMO and the potential for horizontal gene transfer.. Anyways.. I just had an idea.. Why do they modify the food plant to do this stuff? Why don’t they create a companion plant that provides the pesticide/deterrent behavior and plant it along side the food plant? They can pack all the nasty traits into the companion plant that they want. Keep it out of the food plant, and everyone’s happy.

  • […] blog entry, you look over the materials provided by Rothamsted Research, Sense About Science and Biofortified, and make the informed decision to sign the petition in support of the Rothamsted field trial. […]

  • […] same way that invasive species did. So, although the researchers in this experiment may have taken extensive precautions to prevent cross-contamination, such measures will never be sufficient to guarantee protection, and […]

  • […] event on Sunday 27th May (as a refresher of what the scientists at Rothamsted do, here’s an interview with Dr. Gia Aradottir, by […]

  • […] più approfondita e dettagliata, rimando al sito del Rothamsted e soprattutto all’ottima intervista rilasciata dalla dott.ssa Gia Aradottir a Biofortified, alcuni giorni […]

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