Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Caroline and I am a PhD student at the University of Sheffield. My research project focuses on Striga - a genus of parasitic plants that devastates harvests by infecting food crops. I am exploring the defence reactions that can make host plants more resistant against Striga. Due to my ongoing battles with anorexia, I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked but I am determined to finish the course.

This blog charts the ups and downs of life in the lab, plus my dreams to become a science communicator and forays into public engagement and science policy....all while trying to keep my mental and physical health intact. Along the way, I'll also be sharing new plant science stories, and profiles of some of the researchers who inspire me on this journey. So whether you have a fascination for plants, are curious about what science research involves, or just wonder what exactly I do all day, read on - I hope you find it entertaining!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Hope for GM?

The potential of GM technology to play a key role in securing future harvests came a step closer after a report published last week by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee described current regulations surrounding GM crops as 'not fit for purpose'.

Although GM technology could help engineer crops more resistant to drought, pests, climate change, and innumerable other pressing challenges, so far their translation into mainstream agriculture has been pitifully slow, especially in Europe. This is due to their 'negative public image ', partly stirred by specialist environmental campaigners, and fears that the technology is unsafe. I fully agree that novel technologies should be tested and evaluated fully before widespread use, but GM regulations are so strict that it is difficult for scientists to even conduct field trials to assess whether these claims are true. One should remember how many of the technologies we use without thinking these days were once treated with fear and trepidation. Is it ethical for the citizens of wealthy countries to stall field trial for GM crops due to unfounded fears when these could help to feed starving people in developing nations?

This report, authored by ten MPs, calls for a radical reform of current EU legislation regarding novel GM crops, and for applications of GM methods to be considered on the basis of the traits concerned, rather than the technology involved. Hence, a GM crop cultivar would be judged as safe/ unsafe based on its characteristics, not simply on the fact that it was made using GM technology. Crucially, the report recognises that GM technology is not a ' silver bullet' that alone will save mankind, but one which must act complementary to other strategies. After comprehensively analysing the peer reviewed evidence generated to date, the report concluded that GM crops pose no greater inherent health or safety risks than conventional crops. As for those that worry that GM crops will monopolise agricultural research if restrictions are lifted, it was found that, out of the £70million that BBSRC ( Bio technological and Biological Science Research Council ) currently spends on plant science, only £4 million is spent on GM projects. 

As Andrew Millar , MP, put it : "Opposition to genetically modified crops in many European countries is based on values and politics, not science. The scientific evidence is clear that crops developed using genetic modification pose no more risk to humans, animals or the environment than equivalent crops developed using more ‘conventional’ techniques."

Clearly there are issues to be resolved around GM technology - patenting laws, for example - but it is time that these were addressed in open discussion. It currently takes years, even decades for a simple decision regarding GM crops to be made and the UK risks being left behind the nations that are investing in this technology. It's time we started 'clinical trials for GM crops' - to know the truth about whether this technology is indeed safe. 

For more information see http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/science-and-technology-committee/news/report-gm-precautionary-principle/

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