I am pleased to announce the launch of a new series of Infographics, called GMOs Revealed, that will explain how genetically engineered traits work using accessible images, text, and backed by scholarly references. The benefits, challenges, and impacts of these traits will be discussed so that anyone who wants to learn about or discuss this technology can get on the same page. The first graphic in this series covers Bt, which provides resistance to insects in four different crops around the world, with more traits coming to this series in the near future. I’m going to talk about how this project came together, what our goals are for this project, and how you can help Biology Fortified make them better!
Biology Fortified has already produced several popular infographics explaining six ways that the genetics of crops are modified, guidelines for evaluating animal feeding studies, and two important results from our GENERA project. Social-media-friendly graphics are an accessible way to communicate and share scientific information, and can shape dialog while taking on a life of their own on the web. I have entered discussions where people were asking what the similarities and differences were between crop breeding methods and genetic engineering, only to find that our Crop Modification Methods graphic was already shared and being discussed!
The different traits that have been developed through genetic engineering to improve agricultural crops and animals are complex, interesting, and each have their own suite of benefits and drawbacks. Many of these traits are shared between different crops, and some crops such as maize and cotton have many traits available, individually and combined. We wanted to help people make sense of these details, so we embarked on a project to create these infographics, enlisting the artistic and scientific talents of Layla Katiraee (twitter) who developed some of our previous infographics with us.
Each graphic focuses on a specific trait, explaining how it works, what crops are available with this trait, and the most important features of the trait. The images explain the biology underlying each trait, with careful attention to crucial details, enlisting the help of experts in the field. For our first graphic in this series – Bt – we worked with Joe Ballenger from Ask an Entomologist (twitter), whose writing you may recognize here as well! Future graphics will include virus resistance, non-browning traits, herbicide tolerance, and animal traits like sterile mosquitoes and more.
While it can be relatively straightforward to write an article about each one and add a few pictures, it can be quite challenging to create graphics such as these. Decisions are both artistic and technical, and for some details it is necessary to read original research papers to confirm the biology of these systems. Too often, the details are glossed over and minor errors can propagate throughout the dialog. For instance, it is often written that the form of Bt used in genetically engineered crops is already “active”, when in fact the activation process still has to happen in the insect’s gut. We want the correct information can propagate with these graphics and are taking the time to research, review, and revise them before publication. The groundwork for the first of these graphics started back in September last year!
These infographics are intended to be living documents. As new information comes out, the number of crops with each trait changes, etc, we will publish updated versions that will be accessible from the page listed in the Resources section of each graphic. That way you will always know where to go for the latest version.
Finally, here’s how you can help us create more and better graphics. The programs we use to create the images require monthly subscriptions which we have to pay on top of our usual operating costs. Please consider donating, or supporting us with a membership so we can keep the lights on and devote more time to this and our other projects (we also have plushies!). Also, we welcome constructive feedback on these graphics so we can improve them even further, and we welcome your ideas on other traits, biological processes, and issues we can address with future graphics.