Science Isn't Scary!

The Lempert Report
November 28, 2014

If people took the time to understand the science behind GMO’s, would the current debate be so heated?

The debate over the safety of GMO's has been controversial & heated. So, when Allison Bloom, the editor of our newsletter, Food Nutrition & Science, wanted to explain to her daughter what exactly a GMO was, she took her to spend the day with Dr. Robert Goldberg, a plant molecular biologist at the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology lab at UCLA. Dr. Goldberg’s lab has been investigating the molecular processes and controlling the development of specialized cells in higher plants to figure out things like, how genes are organized, how the genes express themselves during development and how genes differentiate into different plant cell types. By understanding gene technology it makes it possible to understand why, for example, some seeds are big and some seeds are small. Or why some tolerate drought, and others don’t. 

Allison & her daughter toured the UCLA experimental greenhouse and got to touch, feel and see a GMO tobacco plant at various stages of development, from embryo to tiny sprout to flowering, adult plant. They also looked at similar experiments on soybeans. Soy is one of the biggest crops globally and the science is especially interested in how to manipulate genes to make seeds bigger and more nutritious.

This technology may seem simple, and yet it is this same technology that can teach us how to turn genes on and off in ways that are beneficial to the farmer and to agriculture. For example? If we modify a plant to be bug resistant, then that plant doesn’t need to be soaked in pesticide. If we modify a plant to produce larger seeds and crops with the same resources, then perhaps we can conserve water and energy. When understanding this kind of science, the list of possibilities goes on. So why is all this research so controversial?

If people took the time to understand the science, would this be such a heated debate after all? After touring the lab at UCLA Allison concluded that perhaps the only thing standing between fear and feeding our world’s growing population with ever-decreasing resources is a true, hands-on science education. If it were possible to reduce fear, and instead focus on teaching, learning and innovating, perhaps an important modified crop like Golden Rice, which has proven potential as an additional intervention for vitamin A deficiency in the developing world, would be made available to those who need it instead of being blocked by anti-GMO politics. Allison and her kids expanded their knowledge about how genes work in the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Lab at UCLA. They got to hold DNA in their hands and live to tell about it. Because, guess what? Science isn’t scary.