October 24, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

GMO: Why 3 Such Difficult Little Letters?

GMOWhat is a GMO? I realized a few years ago that I really should know a lot more about the whole debate over genetically modified (GM) organisms (GMOs). What are the facts on GMOs?

As a scientist who has for many years done amongst other things genetics research including making and studying so-called “knockout mice” that are in a sense GMOs and also as a parent, a gardener, and a vegetarian (actually pescetarian), I should already know GMOs inside and out, right? Well, yes and no. On the GM animal and technology side, yes, but I realized I need to bone up on GMO plants and foods that contain ingredients from them.

GMOs can be any GM living thing, but when people refer to GMOs they usually are talking about GM plants and foods that might contain ingredients from them. I’m not a plant researcher myself, but I find the topic of genetic modification more generally to be very intriguing. There’s a lot of information and “information” out there though. How to tell the difference? One thing that is clear is that there doesn’t seem to be much room on this for discussion as it usually ends up turning into at best a debate and at worst a diatribe.

The “wrong” opinion about GMOs depends upon where one finds oneself and often such “wrong” statements could lead you to being subject to a hefty dose of righteous indignation from, for example, a friend-turned-lecturer.

On the one side we have the “GMO OMG” folks who view anything GMO as coming from the devil. On the other we have some folks who will not tolerate any slight concern over or question about GMOs at all, which they characterize as being akin to anti-vaccine rhetoric or the memes of the Dr. Oz-Gwyneth Paltrow crowd.

Why do GMOs incite such intense reactions with usually no room for middle ground?

I’d be especially interested in hearing from people who might have “middle ground” views on this not entirely on one side or the other.

I suppose by even doing this post I am asking for trouble, huh?

Update: You may enjoy my new book GMO Sapiens on the potential use of CRISPR in people.

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