Get Used To GMOs [Opinion]

David Eddy

Whenever I write about genetically modified crops — the shorthand GMO is commonly used, which stands for genetically modified organism — I usually get feedback from members of the anti-GMO crowd. The comments range from the uninformed, about how Americans will never stand for them in our food, which is ridiculous because they’ve been there for 20 years and now the lion’s share of corn and soybeans are genetically modified; to the unrealistic, who say they will never, ever make their way into fruits and vegetables.

I was reminded of this the other day in talking on the phone with a staff scientist for Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. First off, just the fact that I found his name associated with the research I was interested in — about how they’re wiping out Pierce’s disease in grapevines, which you can read about here — struck me. I don’t know about you, but for me the name “Los Alamos” has always been associated with the Manhattan Project and black and white movies of nuclear detonations.

I asked about that, and the scientist, Goutam Gupta, said Los Alamos has been doing bioscience research from the beginning, when they began to investigate the effects of radiation on living organisms. More recently, they have become heavily engaged in bioenergy research such as on ethanol, and they employ two scientists focused on trying to come up with transgenic plants from which they can more easily derive glucose, the main stumbling block to ethanol production.

Frankenphooey

But getting back to the fruit research, and how they managed to kill Xylella fastidiosa, the bacteria responsible for Pierce’s disease, the kiss of death for grapevines. Gupta and his colleagues engineered a gene containing a bit of human genetic material, and inserted it into the grapevine. Having heard often enough from critics complaining about “Frankenfoods,” alarm bells immediately went off in my head. But Gupta, unperturbed, explained that they only used the human genetic material because the human genome had been previously mapped and they knew where to get what they needed. Once the grape genome is sequenced, which is expected soon, they will use genetic material from grapes. To which I replied, quite sensibly: “Wow.”

Then I immediately thought of another currently incurable disease in another important fruit crop, citrus greening, or huanglongbing. The disease has wreaked havoc in the orange groves of Florida as well as other parts of the world. It immediately leapt to mind because it has most recently been found, for the first time, in California where I live. Fortunately it has not been found in the San Joaquin Valley citrus belt, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, where about 80% of the nation’s fresh-market orange crop is grown. Gupta, who was a few minutes late for the interview because he was on a two-hour conference call, explained that citrus greening was precisely the topic of that call, as he is co-chair of the Citrus Health Response Program.

Hanging up, I thought about how we might have practical, commercially viable answers to these menacing diseases facing our fruit crops in the not-too-distant future. I also thought how even the most entrenched Luddite is going to have a hard time saying sure, we can save our nation’s fruit crops, but we’re going to sit back and do nothing. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in agriculture, and the course of human history at large, it’s that science marches on.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Get Used To GMOs [Opinion]

  1. I don't self-identify with the "non-GMO crowd", but I do agree with them that labeling is a very reasonable expectation. It places virtually no extra burden anywhere in the supply chain and yet will allow consumers the freedom to choose. Isn't that what a free market is all about?

Grapes Stories
The harvest bins weren’t necessarily bursting this year in California winegrape country, but the quality was repeatedly described by industry veterans as outstanding. (Photo Credit: George Rose, California Wine Institute)
Grapes
November 27, 2016
Quality California Winegrape Crop This Year
Customary yield combined with remarkable quality, not to mention long-awaited rainfall, made this year a win/win/win. Read More
potato field
Crop Protection
November 21, 2016
Syngenta Announces New Fungicide Product Line
The Miravis brand contains a new active ingredient that is currently pending EPA approval. Read More
A cluster of table grapes, discolored by heat stress. (Photo credit: University of California Cooperative Extension)
Grapes
November 8, 2016
India Requesting Permission To Send Fresh Grapes To The U.S.
Comment period has opened on the request, and a risk assessment is now available from USDA. Read More
EGVM
Grapes
October 31, 2016
An Exquisite Extermination – European Grapevine Moth [Opinion]
We all complain about wasted tax dollars — and rightly so — but a little applause, please, for the eradication of a feared pest. Read More
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Grapes
October 25, 2016
New Technology Aims To Develop Climate-Tolerant Grapes
Genomics are being used to help develop winegrape varieties. Read More
lettuce field 14_WR
Crop Protection
October 11, 2016
New Fungicide For Lettuce Growers
Product is proven to control lettuce drop. Read More
Weed science advisor John Roncoroni explains that Roundup doesn't do much for horseweed during a presentation about the use of herbicides in vineyards.
Weed science advisor John Roncoroni explains that Roundup doesn’t do much for horseweed during a presentation about the use of herbicides in vineyards. (Photo credit: University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources)
Grapes
October 1, 2016
Vineyard Weed Control Should Start Now
With harvest ending, weed control might not be top of mind at a lot of vineyards. But it should be, Read More
The Latest
Grapes
December 3, 2016
You Need To Have Flexibility In Your Vin…
Prioritization and compromise are sometimes necessary in a challenging growing environment. Read More
Grapes
December 2, 2016
Study Investigates Savings From Naturall…
After two years on the market, researchers ‘discuss cost-cutting benefits of ‘Sunpreme.' Read More
Grapes
December 2, 2016
Washington Wine Seminar Expands Format
Research-focused sessions to be held across state in conjunction with event in 2017. Read More
Grapes
November 27, 2016
Quality California Winegrape Crop This Y…
Customary yield combined with remarkable quality, not to mention long-awaited rainfall, made this year a win/win/win. Read More
Crop Protection
November 21, 2016
Syngenta Announces New Fungicide Product…
The Miravis brand contains a new active ingredient that is currently pending EPA approval. Read More
Grapes
November 8, 2016
India Requesting Permission To Send Fres…
Comment period has opened on the request, and a risk assessment is now available from USDA. Read More
Grapes
October 31, 2016
An Exquisite Extermination – Europ…
We all complain about wasted tax dollars — and rightly so — but a little applause, please, for the eradication of a feared pest. Read More
Grapes
October 25, 2016
New Technology Aims To Develop Climate-T…
Genomics are being used to help develop winegrape varieties. Read More
Crop Protection
October 11, 2016
New Fungicide For Lettuce Growers
Product is proven to control lettuce drop. Read More
Grapes
October 1, 2016
Vineyard Weed Control Should Start Now
With harvest ending, weed control might not be top of mind at a lot of vineyards. But it should be, Read More
Grapes
September 29, 2016
Vinifera Finds A Home In The Finger Lake…
In a region known for spectacular sights, varieties are making their mark, just ask the team at Sawmill Creek Vineyards. Read More
Grapes
September 26, 2016
Where Site And Growing System Meet In Th…
Vineyard manager uses growing systems to control vigor of winegrape varieties. Read More
Grapes
September 7, 2016
Looking To Italy For New Winegrape Varie…
An Italian viticulturist shares his thoughts about a California region, and what new varieties might thrive in their climate. Read More
Grapes
August 27, 2016
Managing Water In California Vineyards
National viticulture symposium provides insights into estimating vineyard irrigation requirements. Read More
Grapes
August 26, 2016
Model Vineyard Looks To Maximize Concord…
Watching Michigan ‘‘Concord’’ grape growers struggle with stagnant and sometimes declining prices, a team of researchers at Michigan State University Read More
Grapes
August 23, 2016
Deeper Irrigation Method Showing Promise…
A new subsurface irrigation system is showing promise for slashing water usage in vineyards. Many vineyards use drip lines that Read More
Grapes
August 19, 2016
European Grapevine Moth Eradicated From …
Agricultural officials confirm eradication of invasive pest, lift quarantine restrictions. Read More
Grapes
August 10, 2016
The Top 10 Muscadine Grape Varieties For…
UF/IFAS scientists scour the best selections for health, taste, and smell. Read More