A protestor’s change-of-heart sheds light on the public’s reservations about genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

This [attached] article is a 1-page summary of a new book review (by José R. Dinneny, Dept of Biology at Stanford Univ). In Seeds of Science, author Mark Lynas has written this book in hopes of improving the “contentious debate that has tempered the enthusiasm of many governments and food producers.” For whatever reason, the hype and hysteria of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe seems to be considerably more intense than the hype and hysteria in North America or Australia.

In this book, author Lynas gives readers a first-hand look at both sides of the discourse. Lynas –– formerly a dyed-in-the-wool anti-GMO activist for Greenpeace –– is now an advocate for the safe use of GM technology. The book begins with exciting accounts of the law-breaking activities that Lynas engaged in, as one of the pioneers of the anti-GM) movement. He describes destroying corn plants in a research field, running from the police, and tearing up documents in the Monsanto headquarters. However, Lynas then comes face-to-face with evidence that contradicts what he thought he knew about GM technology. By the end of chapter 7, science has won the debate.

Most major global scientific organizations have firmly stated that science backs the efficacy and safety of genetic engineering. Yet, in the minds of many uninformed or misinformed non-scientists, “consuming food with a GMO–free label is a must.” Lynas argues that applying GM technology first to herbicide-resistant crops was a mistake that aligned the chemical manufacturing industry — which has always been regarded by many activists as “evil” — with the burgeoning technology. If pest-resistant crops that allowed farmers to apply fewer chemical pesticides had been introduced first, the narrative might have been different.

What actually bothers many people about genetically engineered crops is that, to produce a GMO, genes and genomes are treated like research agents and tools for scientists and engineers, at large multinational companies, to manipulate at will. Many feel that “there is something sacred about Nature” and that it should be preserved, as much as possible, in an untouched state. What is NOT mentioned in this book review is that Mother Nature has been “genetically modifying” plants for hundreds of millions of years: “Horizontal gene transfer” is a well known mechanism by which a plant’s genome can be “perturbed” by viral or fungal or other plant genes/genomes, leading to incorporation of these “foreign genes and DNA fragments” into plant genome. Thus, typically, each plant that animals eat –– contains at least several hundred “foreign genes.” 🙁


Science 29 Jun 2o18; 360: 1407

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