Below are blog posts, posted by permission by students in the class. For many students, this assignment was their first time reading peer-reviewed scientific articles, and their first time trying their hand at science communication. 

| 2015 | 2016

 

2015


 

corn fieldsGenetically modified foods have become a controversial and highly misunderstood topic in the media, and thus, the public.  A Pew report shows that while 88% of AAS scientists believe that GMO’s are safe to eat, only 57% of the public agrees.1   The real question is, if studies show that these GMO’s don’t mutate humans or do any general harm, why are we so afraid of  them? The answer may actually lie in the methods rather than the seed.

In the case of agriculture, GMO’s are organisms (a.k.a. crops) that scientists manipulate the genetic material of in order to make the crop more water efficient, pest resistant, tenacious, you name it. However, genetic modification also comes with a darker side. The corporations behind the magic seeds are business as usual. They have tried, and succeeded, in some places to monopolize the agricultural market with negative repercussions on local economies and communities.2

Many proponents of genetically modified foods jump to the case of golden rice, a grain manipulated to be infused with beta carotene, a known source of vitamin A.  This rice was advertised as the cure-all for parts of Asia and Africa with malnourished populations suffering from vitamin A deficiency.  The real world application of this great invention was not so charitable though.  In an article with NPR, Neth Daño, who works with the ETC group that supports small farmers, said that golden rice is simply more expensive and less effective than traditional nutrition programs.  She believes that the groups truly benefitting from the golden rice are those in the biotechnology industry who are trying to improve their image.3   For those industries though, this golden rice is still a product to be sold, and it is not as affordable as it seems.

The GMO industry is not only unsustainably priced though; the effects run much deeper for underdeveloped agricultural economies struggling to survive. For people who depend on good crop yields year after year, the GM companies advertise their seeds as being able to yield more with less water, pesticides, and care. Who would pass up such an offer? Yet when these yields fail to meet expectations, farmers lose the investment that they put towards the more expensive seeds.2  Another issue arises when farmers are dependent on the agro-technology industry in these lesser-developed areas. The seeds only produce when combined with certain chemicals and practices causing the farmers to become dependent on a single company. This allows the corporations to control agro-business in an area with little competition and even less consideration for the community.

Finally, many researchers view genetically modified crops as a threat to food security. They are planted in monocultures, like plant clones. However, it is much safer to have genetic diversity when it comes to any living population. When looking at humans, genetic diversity is apparent; people have different hair colors, facial structures, and more. Not everyone gets sick at the same time and some people, you may notice, are more resistant to illness than others. Crops are very similar. They are naturally diverse and some should be more resistant to things like disease and pests than others. However, with GMO’s, seeds with the exact same DNA are planted row after row on an entire farm, making the farm more susceptible to harm. This is very concerning because many GM crops have been manipulated with things like herbicides in the genes, and researchers are now seeing trends between widespread use of certain herbicides and the rise of super-weeds, ones that are herbicide-resistant.4  As the saying goes, do not carry all your eggs in one basket. Only having one genome for a crop makes them much more susceptible to downfall.

Although genetically modified foods are generally viewed by researchers as being safe to  eat, they do not come without their faults. GM crops are generally unsustainable for small farmers in lesser developed countries and many researchers view them as a threat to food security as a whole. Where GM seeds may not be the answer, better agricultural practices are. Lesser developed agricultural communities could benefit much more from programs promoting good farming practices and better systems than they ever could from an expensive seed resistant to one variable. The goal of genetic modification should be comprehensive and to help create sustainable agricultural industries - not headline propaganda for a miracle crop.

  1. "Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society." Pew Research Center Internet, Science, & Tech. Pew Research Center, 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <http:// www.pewinternet.org/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/>.
  2. Jacobsen, Sven-Erik, Marten Sørensen, Søren Marcus Pedersen, and Jacob Weiner. "Feeding the World: Genetically Modified Crops versus Agricultural Biodiversity." Agronomy for Sustainable Development Agron. Sustain. Dev. (2013): 651-62. Print.
  3. Charles, Dan. "In A Grain Of Golden Rice, A World Of Controversy Over GMO Foods." NPR, 8 Mar. 2013. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.
  4. Duke, S., & Powles, S. (n.d.). Glyphosate: A once-in-a-century herbicide. Pest. Manag. Sci. Pest Management Science, 319-325.

dendritic cell

GMOs For a Better Future

By: Sean Goodman

The recent discoveries in genetically modified organism (GMO) research have led to further progress in both medicine as well as biofuels. While other media outlets have been working to create a falsified representation of GMOs, research is currently being done in order to solve medical quality of life, as well as environmental issues. With discoveries ranging from a possible treatment of tumors, and the increased effectiveness of algae biofuels, the possibilities to solve current world problems are boundless.

Communication of information between the general public and scientists regarding GMOs has been rather skewed in the past according to a study done by the PEW Research Center. Through the media's misportrayal of GMOs, sensational journalism has created a large discrepancy between what the general public knows and what scientists believe.

Being a relatively new tool being implemented into multiple fields of science, many media outlets have found GMOs as an opportunity to create fear regarding the topic. This manipulation of factual information by media is commonly used, and is known as the “scare tactic.” By having an audience that is readily willing to click the latest link in order to hear about how something found in the supermarket could be “threatening,” websites are able to net a greater profit off of ads from the additional visits.

GMO is a term used to describe the changing of a plant or animal’s genetic code. Each person or plants genetic code differs depending on their DNA. DNA is a term used to define the system used to code for a unique set of proteins for every unique individual. Similar to a toddler putting together a pack of Legos using an instruction manual, DNA helps the plant or animal create different sets of proteins that are used to make different body parts. The manipulation of genes occurs organically in the natural world as certain plants or animals mate with other plants or animals leading to a change in genes. This happens everyday and in a process which is known as rapid evolution. With this in mind, what is being done in the lab with GMO’s is this same natural process but is sped up and changed to solve our problems in a laboratory setting.

One of the latest methods that could be used to help patients through the use of GMOs involves an increase in the resistance of the immune system. In a study done by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh a new way to increase the human body’s defense towards tumors. In the study researchers found that through the manipulations of certain genes, the amount of antigen presenting cells (APC) could be increased. In the body there are a few cells which help to protect people from illnesses such as diseases and mutations. A few of these cells work in a similar fashion to a patient visiting a doctor after noticing they have a problem. In the body a cell known as a macrophage acts like a patient realizing there’s a problem in their body and going to seek help. When a macrophage detects a problem it signals a T-cell which acts similarly to a doctor finding a diagnosis for the patient.

In the study the researchers were able to increase the amount of macrophages detecting the tumor, which in turn allowed for more T-cells to be present to help find a cure for the problem. Through this research the scientists have found that it may be possible for GMO’s (in this case genetically modified immune system organisms) to be injected into patients to help treat tumors. The medical applications of GMO’s is only one of the many fields of study that are currently being researched. With the rising issues of climate change, a few scientists at Colorado School of Mines have looked at how the GMO’s could help to reduce one of the leading causes of climate change, the combustion of fossil fuels.

In the lab the scientists had begun looking at how the use of an genetically modified algae could be used as a safer alternative to fossil fuels. After the increase in prices of petroleum, as well as the increasing amounts of CO2 being released due to fossil fuels many people have been looking towards microalgae as a better alternative. The research done at Colorado School of Mines has shown the modification of genes in microalgae strains can be a valuable tool for more efficient and highly renewable fuel in the future. In their study the use of GMO's allowed the group to increase the amount of starch, and also increase the amount of hydrocarbons released by the algae. Starch is important for biofuels as it can be used to produce ethanol which can be used for motor fuel. With these enhancements through the use of GMO’s, biofuels may provide a better alternative that is safer for the environment than the currently used fossil fuels. GMO research is making it possible for already proposed solutions to many of the world’s problems to be strengthened.

Both of these groups of researchers have found ways in which GMOs can be used to help solve problems that will be beneficial for the future. Whether it’s the discovery of a new method to treat cancerous tumors, or the creation of a stronger and more potent biofuel, GMOs are continuing to be a powerful tool in solving some of the world’s greatest problems.

  1. Condon, C., Watkins, S., Celluzzi, C., Thompson, K., & Falo, L. (n.d.). DNA–based immunization by in vivo transfection of dendritic cells. Nature Medicine Nat Med, 1122-1128.
  2. Anderson, J., Clarke, E., Arkin, A., & Voigt, C. (n.d.). Environmentally Controlled Invasion of Cancer Cells by Engineered Bacteria. Journal of Molecular Biology, 619-627.
  3. Radakovits, R., Jinkerson, R., Darzins, A., & Posewitz, M. (2010). Genetic Engineering of Algae for Enhanced Biofuel Production. Eukaryotic Cell,486-501.
  4. Cary, F., Lee, R., Aaron, S. (2015). Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society. Summary of Findings, 1-11.

DNABy: Max Shearer

I’m sure you’ve heard a lot in the past couple years about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), especially if you lived in Oregon during the vote to decide whether or not companies should be required to disclose if their product contains genetically modified organisms; but what exactly is a genetically modified organism and why would we necessarily care if it’s labeled or not.

Genetically Modified Organisms, can be defined as organisms which their DNA has been modified in a way that would not naturally occur in nature by mating or natural recombination (W.H.O.). Well that sounds like a big deal, I don’t know about you but if this was all I knew about GMOs then I personally would not want to be eating them. There’s unlimited reasons to hate GMOs, but then again there’s unlimited reasons to hate anything, but right from the start of my research I started thinking about the name and the negative stigma that might automatically come with it. When you call it genetic modification, it comes across to some as “playing God” you might say, but what a lot of people don’t know is that genetic modification is a form of a naturally occurring process in a way. When organisms reproduce in nature they split their DNA, and pass some from the mother and father down to their offspring (Excluding A-Sexual reproducing organisms), the Genes are then split randomly and the baby is born with half its DNA from it’s mother, and half it’s father; but we now harness the technology to specifically alter strains of DNA to produce the ideal offspring.

So what are the benefits of Genetically Modified Organisms, why wouldn’t we farm just how we always have been? There are so many benefits to Genetic Modification it’s unfathomable, and so many have yet to be discovered. Some examples of what has already been created in the agricultural department are: higher yielding crops, weather resistant crops, nutrient rich crops, proportionally advantaged crops, and the list goes on and on. Genetic modification is something huge and I think that if more people did their own research they would come to find that Genetic Modification will prove to be a good thing.

So if they’re so helpful why is there such a stigma around them? Well as I mentioned earlier there are plenty of reasons to hate anything and if it gets viewers then the media will cover it. Whether you think GMO’s are playing god, or simply think they sound scary, there’s lots of reasons to hate GMOs. I must admit when I first started researching this topic I was a critic of Genetically Modified Organisms without even doing any research. I made my decision based off of negative opinions I had heard in the media during their recent campaign in Oregon. During class I saw a statistic from the Pew Research Center that stated that only 37% of the general population believes that genetically modified organisms are safe for human consumption, it then compared that statistic to a survey taken in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), that stated that 88% of AAAS scientists believed that GMOs were safe for human consumption (Funk,Rainie). This statistic really got me thinking, where was there such a big gap in knowledge and after doing some research which quickly showed me how safe GMOs have proven to be, it appears to me that the gap exists because people don’t want to do the research, it does take time, and it is rather boring if you aren’t interested in the topic, but staying educated on current issues is important in being a well rounded person; and if you’re going to state your opinion about something, please try and educate yourself first, because if you don’t you’re just contributing to misinformation.

  1. "Frequently Asked Questions on Genetically Modified Foods." WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2015.
  2. Funk, Cary, and Lee Rainie. "Public and Scientists' Views on Science and Society." Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. N.p., 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 03 Dec. 2015
  3. Beringer, John E. "Releasing Genetically Modified Organisms: Will Any Harm Outweigh Any Advantage?*." Journal of Applied Ecology 37.2 (2000): 207-14. Web.
  4. "10 Reasons to Avoid GMOs - Institute for Responsible Technology."Institute for Responsible Technology. N.p., 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
  5. Sonima.com. "Understanding the Controversy and Science of GMOs." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

 

2016


Image result for GMO labelGMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms. This means genes are taken from one organism and inserted into another in order for it to have a desired trait. People think this involves using chemicals of some sort, but that actually is not true. People also think that this is unsafe, which I also think is untrue because as humans we have been genetically modifying organisms for a long time, for example by selectively breeding dogs to get puppies with desired genes or traits. Plenty of dog breeders use two purebred dogs to make purebred puppies, and this is controlling the genes of the puppies by selecting dogs that will give them the desired genes. Another myth about GMOs is that when we genetically modify crops, it makes farmers use more pesticides. This is also not true; it depends on how the crop is genetically modified. Sometimes a crop is specifically modified to have genes that will make it more resistant to pests so it could actually reduce pesticides being used.

            Genetically modifying crops is the same thing as selectively breeding, but is faster and more effective. According to Anna-Karin Kolseth, “Biotechnology can be used to modify traits in crops and animals much faster and more accurately than conventional breeding” (Kolseth 2015). This is a major advantage of GMOs, because the world’s population is growing fast, so we need to make sure we have enough food to feed everyone, and by modifying the traits of crops faster it could help grow healthy crops easier and more efficiently. Kolseth also explains that GMOs “have often led to more flexible and efficient management strategies” (Kolseth 2015). So, they can also make it easier for the people growing the crops, which is another benefit.

Kolseth also explains that “genetically modified (GM) traits relevant for agro-ecosystems include traits such as pest resistance” (Kolseth 2015). GMOs can be used for a variety of other reasons as well, like making the food have more of a certain nutrient, taste better, or become better resistant to drought for example. One has to admit that “manipulated traits may introduce unforeseen effects on ecological processes” (Kolseth 2015). So, if someone genetically modifies a crop for one trait, for example to make it more resistant to pests, this could also possibly make it so the crop maybe tastes bad. Also, if the genes in a crop are altered it could also introduce an unforeseen allergen which would be harmful if someone with an allergy to whatever was introduced ate the crop. Any variation of an unexpected effect could happen, but I think if it is tested before being sold to the public it should be perfectly safe.

Charles Benbrook and Philip J. Landrigan have another idea to solve this problem when they say GMOs should be labeled because “labeling will deliver multiple benefits. It is essential for tracking emergence of novel food allergies” (Benbrook and Landrigan 2015). They also explain that it would solve the problem of making sure that the wishes are respected of the “growing number of consumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buying and how they were produced” (Benbrook and Landrigan 2015). I agree that people have a right to know how their food was made, and labeling food as genetically modified could help prevent people from buying them for safety reasons like if they have an allergy that might be in the food. However, I also think if we labeled foods as genetically modified it would also stop people from buying the food for no reason, because a lot of the general public think GMOs are bad or think they are harmful just because that’s what they have heard but don’t actually know why. This would unnecessarily harm companies that sell genetically modified food.

All in all, in my opinion GMOs are a good thing and have lots of benefits, and if they are handled and tested properly there shouldn’t be anything to be afraid of.

References:

Kolseth, Anna-Karin. "Influence of genetically modified organisms on agro-ecosystem processes." Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, vol. 214, 27 Dec. 2015, pp.96-106. ScienceDirect. www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.proxy.library.oregonstate.edu/science/arti....

Landrigan, Philip J. and Benbrook, Charles. "GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health." The New England Journal of Medicine. 2015. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1505660


Image result for frankenfoodBreaking Down the Fear of Genetic Modification

By: Maddie Hill

            The concept of Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, can be really frightening, especially when it is coupled with harsh terms like “frankenfood”, “contamination”, or “unhealthy”. And in the media, the only prevalent information on GMOs seems to be that there is no agreement on whether or not they are good or bad. This, however, is not true - there is overwhelming agreement in the scientific community that GM technology has provided us as a society with a stronger, more reliable source of food. Just jumping into the never ending argument will not be helpful in understanding GMOs though, so let’s take a few steps back.

            The best description of genetic modification I have come across has been one presented in the article “If you don’t want your food genetically modified, tell nature to stop it”, by Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar. He described GMOs as science’s effort to accelerate genetic drift, a naturally occurring process of evolution. Essentially, genetic drift is just the variation of genes in a population, and genetic modification is the technology behind causing this variation manually, instead of allowing it to occur naturally. To make it even more relatable to a topic that is well understood in society today, creating GMOs is a similar process to organ transplant. The unhealthy organ is representative of the weaker genes in crops (and sometimes animals), which may still function, but are the first to become diseased in certain climates or places, halting production of at least that one plant, but likely many others whose genes have the same reactions to the same surroundings. Scientists are able to isolate many of these genes, and replace them, like surgeons with vital organs, giving the organism a much better chance of survival. The biggest difference between the two is that genetic modification must be completed before seeds have developed, but for organ transplant it is important for an organ to first develop before the body can accept a different one. The purpose, though, is the same: to benefit the patient (human, plant, or animal), and make him or her stronger.

            Now that we have a better picture of what genetic modification really is, it is important to understand where the controversy surrounding it comes from. There is a distinctly negative connotation with the criticism that GMOs are “unnatural”, where it is assumed that this is synonymous with unhealthy. There are two ways of breaking down this argument: One, it is very possible that nature would change the same organisms in similar ways over time, because of their beneficial evolutionary traits. Two, natural things are not always healthy, and unnatural things are not always unhealthy; many naturally occurring elements, gases, and plants are poisonous to humans, while copious synthesized products - from vitamin sources, to life saving drugs - are purely manmade. It is impossible to use the word “natural” in place of the word “healthy”, a distinction that is not present in many anti-GMO arguments.

            The most reasonable worry about the expansion of genetic modification, especially in the food market, is that it allows farmers to use harsher pesticides with more unhealthy chemicals. Critics argue that GMOs would lead to more toxicity in our food from these pesticides, because the plants would be able to survive more treatments, and those chemicals would end up in our food. While this is a potential concern, it is a problem that can be dealt with without preventing us from making important scientific and technological advancements as a society. This is where laws and environmental regulations can be created to protect the health of consumers, while still promoting the use of GM technology to actually aid in that health.

            Misunderstanding breeds fear, as has been shown throughout history, and GMOs are a classic example of this unfounded fear. Science does not have to be completely hidden or encrypted from the general public, as it has been in the case of genetic modification, where the explanation process has been too convoluted from the beginning. GMOs are not only beneficial to us as a society, they are also not going anywhere anytime soon - and it is important that the discussion surrounding genetic modification shifts to how to improve the science and technology, instead of whether or not it should even be allowed.

Works Cited

"Genetically Modified Organisms." Biotechnology: Changing Life Through Science. Vol. 2: Agriculture. Detroit: UXL, 2007. 439-443. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Tagliabue, Giovanni. "Nature as a totem, 'Genetically Modified Organisms' as a contemporary taboo." North American Journal of Psychology 18.2 (2016): 283. Academic OneFile. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Anklesaria Aiyar, Swaminathan S. "If You Don't Want Your Food Genetically Modified, Tell Nature to Stop It." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 22 May 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.