Scientists launch a Citizen Science Experiment on GMOs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
First-of-its-kind research will allow the public to test claims about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in their own backyards.
 
GMOs have been grown by farmers for two decades, and while they are estimated to be in up to 80% of food products sold in the United States, they have brought some controversy. Competing claims are hotly debated on the internet, but a nonprofit organization founded by scientists is putting one to the test. Biology Fortified, Inc. (BFI) is testing the claim that wild animals avoid eating genetically modified corn, by launching a massive “Citizen Science” experiment with adults, kids, and schools.
 
“Citizen Science is a great way to get people of all walks of life involved in the scientific process,” said Dr. Karl Haro von Mogel, the Science & Media Director of Biology Fortified. “We’re doing a real experiment on a massive scale, while teaching kids how to do science at the same time.”
 
The scientists are raising funds through donations on Experiment.com, a crowdfunding fundraiser that supports scientific research. They raised their minimum goal to start the experiment within just 17 hours, and have now raised over twice that amount. Every donation of $25 pays for the assembly and shipping of one experiment kit, and donations over that amount will enable kits to be made free for kids and schools.
 
Dr. Anastasia Bodnar, BFI’s policy director said that now over 350 individuals and school classes have signed up to be a part of this experiment. “The response from young people and teachers has been phenomenal. I love seeing so many people interested in testing a hypothesis and in being part of a bigger scientific experiment.”
 
Dr. Kevin Folta, Chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, explains why they chose to test whether animals avoid eating GMOs. “I’ve been seeing the claims online for years and it seemed impossible, but at the same time people would tell me that they aren’t eating this food if animals won’t. So here’s the chance to do the test and maybe help concerned people make a choice based on actual data.”
 
Each volunteer Citizen Scientist in the project will get a kit containing four ears of corn – enough to do two experiments. They will send pictures and data with an easy-to-use web portal. The ears will be barcoded and double-blinded to safeguard the results of the experiment. “We’re doing this experiment in a very open and public way so everyone can trust the results and see how science is done at the same time,” said Karl Haro von Mogel.
GMOexperiment teaser withURL
The project has attracted widespread attention and a high-profile endorsement from Nobel Laureate Dr. Barry Marshall, who co-discovered the role of H. pylori in the development of ulcers. “The corn project might be a template for all kinds of experiments which kids can do to learn about science.” He added that when the results come in, kids may be able to answer all kinds of questions, such as “are squirrels right handed?”
 
On Wednesday, October 28th at 7:30 pm Eastern time, Drs. Haro von Mogel and Bodnar will host a live Q/A on Google+ Hangouts and YouTube for the public to learn more about the experiment.
 
The team at Biology Fortified is busy getting the kits ready to ship out, said Karl Haro von Mogel, “We are going to start sending these kits out in a week, so if you want to be a Citizen Scientist, there’s no better time than now to join!”
 
Links:
Fundraising campaign:
http://www.GMOexperiment.com
 
Signup form for Citizen Scientists:
http://tinyurl.com/gmo-exp-signup
 
Google+ Hangout Q/A:
https://plus.google.com/events/c895qptistkpup6j0bpoapq0qfo
Youtube link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWJN7WCx_6E
 
Biology Fortified site:
https://biofortified.org/
 
Contact:
Karl Haro von Mogel
Science & Media Director
karl@biofortified.org
(608) 284-8842

Written by Biofortified Board

Our mission is to enhance public discussion of biotechnology and other issues in food and agriculture through science-based resources and outreach.

11 comments

  1. The problem with wildlife eating GMO anything might more likely be that they do not avoid eating of a GMO that might have an unintended pathogenic flaw hidden within it, and thus have potential adverse effects on the population. This would apply to other crops as well, but … are we talking science, or politics, or, ‘political (science)’?

    1. I think you are putting words into people’s mouths. I don’t think anybody is claiming, and I certainly do not perceive it that way, that if the project accumulates evidence that squirrels do not appear to show any preference for non ge traited corn varieties or avoidance of a ge traited variety, that that is definitive proof of safety of the genetic engineering process. Of course that is not the purpose or effect of this project. As was pointed out by a commenter to another article on this topic, wild animals do not avoid deliberately poisoned grain.
      But how many times do you read blogs or comments that state as accepted truth that wild animals, if given a choice, will avoid ge corn or at least consume the non-ge before they consume the ge corn. Anectdotal accounts of ge avoidance by animals is often touted just as incorrectly as evidence that genetic engineering is not safe. I personally believe the animal avoidance theme is an urban myth inspired by a casual perception that the process of genetic engineering somehow alters the very essence of the plant and food products harvested from them that animals have a sensory ability to detect. I believe that is a cultural construct having a parallel in the Dracula movies where the normally friendly dog barks and growls or cowers in the presence of the vampire because the dog, not constrained by human biases and having some superior sensory or innate intuitive skills, can sense that Dracula is a sinister, corrupted version of a human. The term GMO itself I believe contributes to a lay intuition that the effect, if not the intent, of genetic engineering is to arrive at an artificial substitute for familiar food crops. GE corn may look and function like corn, but it is something different than corn, and animals have sensory capabilities, or some intuitive ability, to detect.
      I agree, the whole project will have only marginal impact on the societal debate about whether the process of genetic engineering instills harmful attributes to our food, or presents greater risks than other methods of altering the genetic composition of food source organisms.

      1. I too would be very surprised if any significant attractance/ avoidance trend were the result of this ‘exercise’. If there is any difference biochemically, likely there would not be significant problem anyway…. but, there still remains an outside chance that there are biochemical differences between the two that could POSSIBLY be significant over the long term eating scenario. Not likely, but possible. This is why I would like to see controlled long term… a few years at least feeding studies… and long term health comparisons.

    2. The main impact I would expect this to have is to rebut the anecdotal claim that animals reject GM corn over Organic corn while at the same time making people think a little about how one would scientifically test a claim.
      Hence this has properly laid out instructions, massive replication, blinding, proper controls etc – whereas pictures of two labelled corn cobs have absolutely none of this.
      As a piece of scientific outreach it is nice – it isn’t so complex that nobody will understand it, it has the capacity to undermine misinformation (or indeed, should the results go the other way, highlight something seriously weird going on), and makes people think about science (in a very general sense) should be done.
      Sadly it probably doesn’t have the capacity to stop people using meaningless buzz phrases like “nintended pathogenic flaw”, although one can dream.

        1. No Ray, it says everything about the fact you use sciency sounding phrases that are devoid of meaning. Your scientific illiteracy says nothing about where the science falls. Words have meaning. Thrown together scary sounding phrases don’t, they just muddy the water.

          1. I’d say you ought to talk with a number of toxicologists about these ‘sciency sounding phrases that are devoid of meaning’.
            Toxicology is based very solidly in these terminologies that represent far more than just ‘scary sounding phrases’, our food science future begs for our understanding of these ‘phrases’.

          2. I just searched the literature for the phrase
            “unintended pathogenic flaw”
            Nothing returned.
            A search for the phrase “pathogenic flaw” yields 3 citations, one of which is clearly a verbatim copy of the first, all of which are discussing insulin resistance.
            In the context of this discussion the phrase “unintended pathogenic flaw” is absolutely devoid of any meaning whatsoever, yes. I stand by this 100%.

          3. Ewan, you should widen your scope a little, it’s a big world out there. An adequate food safety and supply paradigm in the future must make better use of such phrasing.

          4. Ray, just because you’ve used a bad phrase badly doesn’t mean that it is the problem of the current paradigm for not using it.
            The scientific literature is replete with well defined technical descriptions for all manner of things, that you’re scientifically illiterate doesn’t negate this, your desire to fear monger with sciencey sounding terminology is great an all I guess, but it’s meaningless bafflegab that needs to be called out as such.
            The paradigm isn’t the issue here, the issue is that you are desperately out of your depth and don’t seem to grasp it, perpetually hand waving and making all manner of noise that you appear to think is valid, but is just umming and ahhing and prattling on about how everything needs to be done to the nth degree smattered with just enough massively abused terminology to give a veneer of plausibility while at no point examining that if even 1/10th of your demands for testing were met food would either be outrageously expensive or all crop breeding etc would simply cease.

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