Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Coming Soon: 'Genetically modified crops, good or bad? My thoughts.'

When I first applied to Cambridge University, they sent me the following question and told me that I would be expected to discuss it at interview:
'What are the benefits and potential risks of genetic modification?'
It was a question that I had wanted to know the answer to for a while, so I was glad to have something to motivate me to do some reading about it. I had heard about genetic modification, and genetically modified crops in particular, on the news, but didn't feel very well informed. All I really knew was that GM crops were something that scientists had made for farmers and that a lot of people were opposed to them.

So I did some reading. I found out about the different types of genetically modified crops, why they have been developed, what advantages they have and what concerns people have about them. I didn't exactly become an expert, but I felt informed enough to have an interesting discussion on the topic. I was looking forward to that part of the interview.

When the interview did roll around, the interviewers made it clear early on that they didn't want to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of genetic modification. Instead, they wanted to quiz me on my understanding of the technical aspects of how scientists genetically modify things in the lab. I don't really mind though. Being set that question started me on the path that I am still following today. I am still trying to improve and refine my answer the question they set me.

The good news is that they accepted me and I spent three years studying science in Cambridge. In the third year I specialised in plant sciences, which gave me plenty of opportunity to learn more about genetic modification. I learnt new things about genetically modified crops, I met some of the scientists who develop them and I read more about some of the risks that might be associated with them.

Since graduating, I have started this blog. I try to write about a wide range of plant and food related topics, but the issue of GM does seem to come up quite a lot. For a while now, I have been aware of the fact that although I mention GM a lot on here, and I generally seem to give the impression that I am in favour of it, I have never explicitly explained my stance on the issue.

Then, a few weeks ago, a friend posed the following question to me: "What are the main good things about GM crops and what are the main legitimate concerns about their use?" Apparently he recently came close to disagreeing with a stranger on a bus who was bad-mouthing GM crops, but then realised that he didn't really know much about it so kept quiet (he is clearly very brave, I would never do that). So he has turned to me for answers (which is fair enough, I do talk about crop science quite a bit).

Up until now, I haven't really felt too worried about the fact that I haven't gotten round to explaining my position on GM crops. This is because I know that no-one actually reads my blog posts (friends keep telling me that they opened the page but then "it all got sciency" so they closed it. I'm trying to work on this.). But, now that someone has actually asked me directly, I feel like now is the time to write about it, because I know that at least one person will read it.

In late 2008, Cambridge University asked me a question that motivated me to read about something that I had been meaning to read about for ages. Now, my friend has asked me a question that has motivated me to write about something that I have been meaning to write about for ages.

In the next day or two, I will put up a post explaining my stance on GM crops. I will try to make it as readable as possible and avoid scientific terms as much as possible. Hopefully it will be something that I could show to the me of four year ago and save him a lot of time. [Update: in the end I decided to do a series of posts called 'GM Crops'. Click here for part one. (Also, it definitely took me more than a day or two).]


P.S. Yeah, I know. It is quite weird that I have posted a post about an upcoming post. I did consider adding the second post to the bottom of this one, but that would mean that it had a 600 word introduction, which makes me feel uneasy. Sorry if you read this hoping that it would contain anything other than self-indulgent anecdote. 

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