GMO Discussion at IHC2010

Written by Kevin Folta

The International Horticulture Congress (IHC2010) recently convened in Lisbon, Portugal.  Presentations illustrated repeatedly how adjustment of gene expression, via transgenics or breeding, could lead to enhanced quality of fruits and vegetables.
During a workshop on August 25 I had the opportunity to listen to several experts in the field of biotechnology and public perception.  The workshop was centered on making the technology more palatable for the general public- allowing these valuable, safe and environmentally friendly technologies to flirt with commercialization.
Unfortunately, one central theme was that science is letting the tail wag the dog.  Because much of the public refuses to accept the hard science of transgenic plant safety and efficacy, scientists find themselves concocting unique and clever ways to circumvent the traditional use of transgenic technologies.  In a sad way it is kind of like scientists inventing a new way to recondition melting glaciers because so many people vehemently oppose the science of climate change.
The conference was filled with beautiful science– new solutions to many problems in food growth, production and post-harvest treatment.  Technology is poised to help feed the world with better and more nutritious products. On the other hand, the disconnect between hard science and public perception, driven to the outright lies of the vocal biotech opponents, stands as a palpable barrier to implementation of even the most sound and promising technologies.
Over the next several postings I will summarize the discussion of the panel and the presentations of its constituents.  All provide excellent insight into the state of transgenic plant science and its multitude of applications to real world problems.
Kevin Folta is an Associate Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida.  Armed with a fist-full of genome data and the molecular toolkit to put it to work, his goal is to exploit technology to its fullest to feed more people, more nutritious food, with less environmental impact.  Unfortunately, well-meaning science deniers stand to obstruct this mission.  Wielding the steely sword of science and the velveteen fist of rhetoric, Kevin seeks to win their hearts and change their minds so that we can advance the cause of using biotechnology to feed more people with less harm to our planet.

Written by Guest Expert

Kevin Folta has studied biology and agricultural biotechnology for over thirty years. His research examines the role of light in controlling plant traits, especially those relevant to agriculture. His group is known for using innovative genomics approaches to identify genes associated with fruit quality, especially flavors and aromas.


  1. Just who are these “well-meaning science deniers [who] stand to obstruct this mission” mentioned in your bio? Once you subtract the foul-mouthed misanthropic thugs, the front groups paid by corporations, labor unions, and governments using ‘environmentalism’ to promote the financial and political interests of their funders, and those with groups which simply invest speculatively in real estate under the same aegis, you might be left with as many as three people.
    I’d like to know their names.

  2. Looking forward to it. I heard you on a podcast recently I think–and appreciated your outreach on this topic.

  3. Eric:
    Surely the list is a bit longer than that. But what you now have me wondering is what exactly you’d do with this list if someone provided it.
    Where Kevin got me was “fist-full of genome data” – just how much data is in a fist full and where might the rest of us get our grubby fists on it?

  4. Hi Eric, I see where you are coming from. Unfortunately those are the people that are so ideologically entrenched you’ll never change them. There are a lot of folks in the anti-transgenic world that just don’t possess the tools to interpret scientific data. They are swayed by sensationalism and honestly believe that transgenics are dangerous. We can reach them, but it does not start with name calling and ad hominem attack. Stay tuned…

  5. Clem, I guess I’m just thinking of genome data in the public domain, available through GenBank etc. At a recent NSF meeting they said that next year 40x all of the current information in all of genbank in one year alone. Beijing Center for Genomics will submit 100 genomes. If you can’t get it now, you’ll have it soon!

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