Fifty shades of genetic modification

April 28, 2017

The science that underlies GM crops will be presented at a public lecture at Murdoch University

The science that underlies GM crops will be presented at a public lecture at Murdoch University

A new weekly series of free public lectures begins at Murdoch University next week, with genetically modified (GM) crops being the first topic to be discussed.

Internationally-renowned agricultural biotechnology researcher and Murdoch lecturer, Professor Michael Jones will be addressing the science that underlies the development of GM crops and their future potential.

Genetic modification in crops occurs when the DNA of these plants is altered using biotechnology techniques. In many cases, the aim of genetic modification is to include a new trait in the plant that does not occur naturally, for example, improved insect resistance or better food quality for consumers.

However, despite a clear scientific consensus that food derived from current GM crops are as safe or safer to eat than conventional food, there are opponents who question their safety and have environmental concerns.

A strong advocate in favour of GM crops, Professor Jones says they are vital for the world’s future food security.

“The world will need 70 per cent more food by 2050 and beyond against a backdrop of less land, climate variation, water shortages, dissemination of plant pests and diseases and more costly inputs,” said Professor Jones, from the School of Veterinary and Life Sciences.

“Our understanding of plant genetics, genomes and genes that underlie useful crop traits is advancing rapidly, and we need to use this knowledge to ensure future food security.

“Because it is a technical subject, public understanding about genetic modification of crops is sometimes lacking, so it is important to provide a scientific, evidence-based view of why GM crops are so important to future food security.

“This is why 10 per cent of the worlds’ crop production areas now grow what are defined as GM crops.”

In his presentation on 1 May, Professor Jones will also be revealing more about the exciting developments in the field of GM crops, particularly in the area of genome editing.

“This is a transformative technology which enables scientists to make very specific changes in plant genomes – to add or change one, two, three or more bases at precise sites in the genome,” he said.

“This can deliver disease resistant wheat and improved quality food for human consumption, for example, with lower GI (glycemic index). Genome editing can also deliver the removal of toxic compounds and non-allergenic wheat.”

Professor Jones’ talk is the first of a new lecture series called Healthy Futures that will take place every Monday from 6pm throughout May and June. Future lectures will cover topics including social media and mothers, and solving the problem of the future water supply in Australia.

Each presentation will take place in the Kim Beazley Lecture Theatre and free tickets can be booked via the Eventbrite website: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/o/murdoch-university-outreach-12790629019.

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