The International Horticulture Congress (IHC2010) recently convened in Lisbon, Portugal. Presentations illustrated repeatedly how adjustment of gene expression, via transgenics or breeding, could lead to enhanced quality of fruits and vegetables.
During a workshop on August 25 I had the opportunity to listen to several experts in the field of biotechnology and public perception. The workshop was centered on making the technology more palatable for the general public- allowing these valuable, safe and environmentally friendly technologies to flirt with commercialization.
Unfortunately, one central theme was that science is letting the tail wag the dog. Because much of the public refuses to accept the hard science of transgenic plant safety and efficacy, scientists find themselves concocting unique and clever ways to circumvent the traditional use of transgenic technologies. In a sad way it is kind of like scientists inventing a new way to recondition melting glaciers because so many people vehemently oppose the science of climate change.
The conference was filled with beautiful science– new solutions to many problems in food growth, production and post-harvest treatment. Technology is poised to help feed the world with better and more nutritious products. On the other hand, the disconnect between hard science and public perception, driven to the outright lies of the vocal biotech opponents, stands as a palpable barrier to implementation of even the most sound and promising technologies.
Over the next several postings I will summarize the discussion of the panel and the presentations of its constituents. All provide excellent insight into the state of transgenic plant science and its multitude of applications to real world problems.
Kevin Folta is an Associate Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Armed with a fist-full of genome data and the molecular toolkit to put it to work, his goal is to exploit technology to its fullest to feed more people, more nutritious food, with less environmental impact. Unfortunately, well-meaning science deniers stand to obstruct this mission. Wielding the steely sword of science and the velveteen fist of rhetoric, Kevin seeks to win their hearts and change their minds so that we can advance the cause of using biotechnology to feed more people with less harm to our planet.