UNL lecturer addresses the GMO debate

Story and photo by Heather Haskins, NewsNetNebraska

Protesters in the Philippines destroyed a field of genetically modified rice last month claiming  the crop was a health hazard.

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher said the crop, referred to as ‘golden rice,’ was bioengineered to provide life-saving nutrients to developing countries.

Sally Mackenzie is a professor in UNL’s agronomy and horticulture department. She specializes in plant genetics and she’s aware of the many criticisms of GMOs, primarily relating to health concerns.

On Monday, Mackenzie gave a lecture to an overflowing audience at UNL’s Hardin Hall on East Campus, the first in the Heuermann Series.

The talk was called “Beyond GMOs to More Honest Dialogue About Our Food.” It took the position that the GMO debate is interfering with finding  sustainable solutions to the problem of feeding the growing world. “I want (the audience) to take away awareness of the miscommunication that is going on in regard to modern agriculture,” Mackenzie said. “It needs to be put right.”

A GMO researcher’s view 

In her talk, Mackenzie addressed the common criticism that GMOs aren’t natural. To create a GMO, scientists insert DNA into the genetic code of an organism to cause it to express a specific, desired trait.

“DNA recombination is the driving force of nature,” Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie gave the example of bacteria that evolves over time to become resistant to certain antibiotics. This is due to the bacteria’s DNA changing to become less susceptible to the antibiotics.

Genetically modifying organisms is not new technology.

“We’ve been relying on the plant breeder for a thousand years,” Mackenzie said, explaining that corn, carrots and tomatoes have all been changed by plant breeders to become edible.

  Mackenzie addressed concerns of health issues arising from GMOs and wanted to assure audience members that no health issues have been linked to GMOs, adding that there was no way to prove any food as absolutely safe.

Reactions

“(The talk) definitely changed my opinion on GMOs,” said freshman Dorothy Elsken of Lincoln. 

Elsken said her original view of GMOs was negative. It was not a topic she would bring up around friends due to its controversial nature.

“I feel like I am more well informed (after hearing the talk),” Elsken said.

Senior dietetics major Katelin Wolff of Omaha believes that GMOs are valuable. “I knew it was out there but I didn’t know all the applications for it. It is cool to see all the potential that it has,” Wolff said. “It makes me really excited because I am a dietetics major.”

A last thought 

Mackenzie concluded her talk by urging her audience members to let the data do the talking when it comes to GMOs. “Science is not about your opinion or mine, it is about the data.”

 

Sally Mackenzie, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who specializes in plant genetics, gave a Heuermann lecture about the controversy surrounding GMOs.

Sally Mackenzie, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who specializes in plant genetics, gave a Heuermann lecture about the controversy surrounding GMOs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *