Monday, July 6, 2015

Musings: Conversation With a GMO Researcher

Though people in the West typically equate “GMOs” with international chemical companies and Roundup-resistant crops fed largely to livestock, it's a very different scene in the public sector of developing nations.

Researchers in that corner of the biotech universe are focusing on indigenous staple crops, finding ways to improve nutrition, boost yield, minimize pesticide use, increase drought tolerance and reduce natural toxins in certain foods, such as peanuts.

On my trip to India, I had the opportunity to interview that nation's leading plant scientists and learn about their research in agricultural biotechnology. Not one of them came across as a mad scientist, a monster out to poison humanity, a tyrant desiring to control the world's seeds and genetic diversity.

No, they were just earnest, committed, hardworking academics, sincere in their desire to feed their countrymen, address problems facing farmers in their very own villages. 

One of them was Dr. Sampa Das, whose team at the Bose Institute has isolated mannose-binding lectin proteins in onion and garlic. Though these lectins are basically storage proteins, they can also serve as defense proteins when attacked by certain enemies.

Plants genetically engineered to express that lectin could better repel sap-sucking insects and the viruses they carry, which could have the happy result of boosting yield and reducing pesticide use. 

And isn't that a good thing? Especially since it essentially mimics a process in nature.

You can read my profile of Dr. Sampa Das here. It offers some perspective on what motivates these scientists, the research process and the lengthy ordeal of getting a genetically engineered plant to market. 


Anonymous said...

Very interesting Joan. I especially like this:

"Biotechnology has met political resistance in India and elsewhere, largely because the general public is “not much aware of the intricacies of the technology,” Das says. The problem is compounded because scientists who “are not actually handling the technology” are leading the public debate.
“They cannot perceive the advantage or disadvantage or any issues,” Das says. “They cannot address the issues in depth. I think it’s the duty of scientists who actually practice [the technology] to also provide all the pros and cons… clearly, transparently, in a detailed way.”

And certainly laymen to this specific study of science and politicians should not be leading the debate either. What's happend on Kauai with the anti GMO movement is the blind leading the blind.

Anonymous said...

This is amazing. The Truth is out. OMG. What can anyone say to this? Go, go, go, GMO. LOL. Well done Joan.

Anonymous said...

Joan - Sustainable farming is as JoAnn, Gary, Mason, Bynum and Jay Furfaro beleeb.
The farmer must have acres of beautiful visually pristine land. No old tractors, no unkempt buildings or fences. The landscape must be beautiful.
The Farmer must have a large comfortable farm dwelling. Preferably over 3000 square feet with large windows to capture the views.
There must be a at least a few lychee, rambutan and lungong trees. A couple of exotic goats, water features for the pool and a jacuuzi.
The farmer also has a LandRover, Audi, Hi_End 4 wheeler or other exotic farm vehicle. And he wants JoAnn's Bus to mandatory for every one but themselves. Traffic is bad when it is other people's cars that use the roads.
A true Kauai farmer also attends all Agriculture meetings at the Council and tells other farmers what real farming is. The Kauai Farmer never listens to the people who have worked the land for generations and in particular never listens to the the land lords who keep the hana wai ditches functioning. Irrigation is not important for the goats or trees.
Another important part of "the farm test" on Kauai is: Money or return on your investment is not important. If the land/improvement market value on your farm is one to 30 million and you get a gross return of $35,000 you are perfect. Capitalization of your farm is unimportant, you just have to look good.
Also at public hearings it is essential to wear sunrise shells, buddha cotton strands, be skinny and when provoked have a shrill high E string screech to your voice.
And the final two ingredients for the "perfect Kauai Farm" and to be accepted as a sensei of the land. Your farm should be a CPR. You should have either purchased a CPR or developed one yourself. The blue book of Ag CPR creation was done by JoAnn Yukimura when she did an early Ag condo at Kalihiwai (Anini side of the river), makes 2,000,000 buckareenies. After you have been an Ag CPR developer and/or purchaser you must at that time be AGAINST all other Ag CPRs and any type of farming you disagree with.
In short a Kauai farmer is rich, self-righteous, has no ancestral ties to the land, doesn't need money, tells others how for live li' dat and wants the island and others to live, believe and behave as they do. Great God Almighty! Please come down to this little green island and teach the people how to have civil discourse. And God while you're at it, tell that old Japanee man next to me to get rid of those hogs in my view plane and to fix up his house, that toe tung roof don't cut it.

Anonymous said...

At what point through the passage of life as we know it did humans gain the privalage to expect to survive longer then those forms that went extinit.

Anonymous said...

Man can change the environment and adapt. The extinct ones could not adapt to the change soon enough. Good thing for caves. Thus caveman.

Anonymous said...

The "perfect" Kauai farm is nothing but a tax loss (personal or corporate tax write-off against profits made in another business elsewhere) lots of wealthy newcomers doing it, The Hay's northshore farm profiled in TGI several weeks ago a great example.

In this case they can even apply losses against their Hanalei beachfront TVR profits. Their TVR "remodel" and bar/spa placed out front on the lawn destroyed all the neighbors peace of mind and caused those longtime residents to....yep turn theirs into a CPR on one side and now the other side is...for sale.

Anonymous said...

Great article about modern science and its ability to respond to agricultural challenges including climate change.