Scientist to talk GMO’s

As the world’s population and demand for food continues to increase, Nina Federoff said the percentage of farmland is decreasing.

Fedoroff will present the fifth-annual Shaw Lecture at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Carter Hall. The presentation will cover genetically modified organisms and the future of food crops.

Genetically modified crops are the only reason crop productivity continues to increase, Federoff said, and if the world were to eat nothing but organic food, there would be enough for about half of the world’s population.

No proof exists that shows a difference between organic and genetically modified foods, she said.

“Plants don’t care whether they get their nitrogen from cow poop or a sack of fertilizer. But you should because cow poop can make you sick,” Fedoroff said.

When Fedoroff, one of the first scientists to do plant DNA sequencing, was invited to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to give a presentation on her work, she met Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock. After conversing with McClintock, Fedoroff decided her work with jumping genes would be an interesting project.

These genes are ones that are able to move from one location to another within a genome. They are also key in Genetically Modified Organisms.

GMOs have been around for an estimated 10,000 years. Now, instead of waiting on nature, scientists can change organisms at a molecular level. Scientists are now able to remove, modify and re-insert a gene.

This new way of modification was founded near the end of the 20th century.

“People decided they were hysterical about this and it was unnatural and bad,” Fedoroff said.

Fedoroff said the modified crops grown today are the same as the crops grown before they were modified. The only difference is the addition of one or two genes that makes the plant resistant to an insect or herbicide that would destroy it.

The addition of these genes is what people are concerned about.

The origin of the anti-GMO movement was boosted thanks to a study published in 2012 by French molecular biologist Gilles-Éric Séralini.

The study claims GMOs led to cancer in the rats used.

After scientific evaluation, however, the paper was thrown out because the rats used already had high cancer rates to begin with. Over 80 percent of males and 70 percent of females developed cancer normally.

Food and Nutrition Program Chair Julie McCullough said she feels this is a topic people could benefit by providing more information.

McCullough said when it comes to issues like this, people should listen to the experts working in that field and see what they have to say about it. She said in order to take a stance one way or another, she would have to do more research into the topic.

“I think it’s very important,” McCullough said, “you don’t make a recommendation without considering the harm that can be caused to the consumer.”