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 - mem from somerville, Daily Kos, July 12, 2009

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a topic that can be wildly misrepresented by Republicans and science fiction writers.  

Here's a sample from Republicans--how can we forget the hybrids scare:

    President Bush's State of the Union Address
    ....Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research: human cloning in all its forms; creating or implanting embryos for experiments; creating human-animal hybrids; and buying, selling or patenting human embryos....

Samples from science fiction writers abound.  Actually, I quite liked The White Plague back in the day.  But I am able to understand the difference between science fact and science fiction.

In addition, GMOs are wildly misrepresented by certain activists.  You may have been led to believe that all GMOs are from Monsanto, which is the spawn of all the evil in our food system.  And you may have been led to believe that all ur geenz and seeds are belong to us.  Both of these perspectives are flat-out false.  In addition, they are generating fear that a Karl Rove would be proud of--making debate impossible because your fear of being attacked by Monsanto GMOs is so great.  

In a recent diary we were told (incorrectly, again) that genetic modification is all worthless and corporate. There are plenty of examples of biotechnology-enhanced crops are feeding struggling African farmers and can help farmers who are already facing serious problems from climate change. These are only a couple of examples of worthy academic projects that you probably don't know about because of the haze generated by people who want you to think all genetic engineering is Monsanto.

Today I was reading about another GMO that may provide huge benefits to poor farmers.  The article is by Mark Tester, a researcher whose group has just published a paper on salt-tolerant plants. (I will mention, though, that this is not the only group working on this issue--this is just the one who wrote in the Guardian this week. There are probably several ways to address this problem that may arise from different research groups.)

Here's what a recent diary had to say on this topic:

    Most of the time, this refers to promises of GM crops that are drought tolerant. An associated problem is salinity, which is especially a problem on irrigated land. Heinemann is doubtful that we will see stress tolerant GMOs in the future.

And here is the truth, from a researcher actively working on this topic:
GM crops are another tool in the struggle against poverty

    Salty soils affect the growth of plants worldwide, particularly in irrigated land where one-third of the world's food is produced. It is estimated that one-fifth of irrigated land is salt-affected. And it is a problem that is only going to get worse as pressure to use more water increases and the quality of water decreases. Helping plants to withstand this salty onslaught would have a significant impact on world food production.....

    We made a targeted genetic tweak so that Na+ is removed from the water flowing up the stem before it reaches the shoot – once out, it is stuck. The effect of this manipulation is to reduce the amount of toxic Na+ building up the shoot and so increase the plant's tolerance to salinity.

    The control of the gene we manipulated is crucial. To be effective, it must be tuned up so that it works harder and produces more protein than it usually would specifically around the plant's water conducting tubes in the mature root. In doing this, we have enhanced a process used naturally by plants to minimise the movement of Na+ to the shoot. We have used genetic modification (GM) to amplify the process, helping plants to do what they already do – but to do it much better!

So here it is. Today.  And it was not done by Monsanto. It has nothing to do with buying expensive pesticides.

You may dislike the business practices of certain corporations.  Fine.  You may dislike the current patent laws.  Fine.  But stop letting people use your fears of your food to dismiss improvements in plants that could help to feed millions in times of increasing demand and climate change.  

Before you assault the developer of this salt-tolerance technology as being a tool of BigAg, read the whole article.  But here's a snip:

    The motivation for my research is as an independent academic seeking knowledge and its application for public good. It is driven by the same imperatives that led me to be an active member of the UK Green party for nearly a decade. As such, I consider my funding sources to be irrelevant to my academic integrity. Nevertheless, I can declare that none of our research on salinity has been paid for by industry.

Before you assault me as being a tool of BigAg, I assure you that I do not now, nor have I ever, worked for Monsanto or any of the BigAg companies.  

I'll close with a great comment by Dr. Tester on this technology.  He summarizes what many progressive scientists feel on this matter--of hunger, poverty, and agriculture in the world in times of economic and climate crises.  

    GM crops are not the answer to this shameful global situation, but I argue strongly that they provide another tool, another option to try to address the problem. And I do not think those of us sitting in comfortable wealth have a right to deny people the opportunity to improve their production of food. The technology is just that, a technology. Like nuclear technologies (radiotherapy or nuclear weapons) or mobile phones (communication or bomb triggers), how we use it is the main issue.

Please don't close your mind on this science and technology because you hate a corporation.  We need many silver BBs in the days ahead.  Let's not withhold any of them from anyone.