I am a public, academic scientist with no ties to Big Ag. I understand the real benefits, promises, risks and limitations of GMO / trangenic technology and am glad to help further understanding of this important technology.

Comments: 1641 • Responses: 43  • Date: 

[deleted]150 karma

How do you address the danger of significantly (up to 93%) reduced variety of food crops? See this chart.

My worry is that if one of say the 12 major varieties of corn gets a blight (similar to the Chestnut blight), we will face a mass food shortage.

kevinfolta264 karma

Your concern is valid, but also applies to traditionally bred crops. Anything good with exceptional properties ends up dominating markets, GM or not. What GMO gives you is the ability to rapidly adapt to a new pathogen or environmental challenge, or develop crops with expanded ranges that could increase genetic variation. That's really just speculation. Your chart is right-on... it shows that we have selected for specific improved varieities. On the other hand, the trend is to breed in more wild genes from cousins of cultivated crops, so that will give some options too. Good question and thanks for the chart.

threetoast143 karma

How do you respond to people that think GMOs are like radioactive Nazis?

kevinfolta310 karma

That unlike radioactive Nazis, there is no solid reproducible harm of GMO technology. Scientists almost universally agree. Plus, if any of us public scientists found harm in GMOs, we'd report it, and be set for life with grants, Nobel prizes and awesome papers that changed farming!

Taco_Champ95 karma

Can you tell us about the light side of GMO science?

I feel that companies like Monsanto really give the field a bad name. What are some things that will be of benefit to our species on the horizon?

kevinfolta146 karma

This is a tricky question. First the science. From model plants we have learned about the pathways that help provide tolerance to extreme weather, drought, etc. We know how plants make metabolites and resist disease. All of these could be parts of the new generation of transgenic plants. More flavor, nutrition, etc too. However, it is almost impossible to commercialize these materials. The approval process selects for big companies, and that's why the only transgenic crops are big ag crops! In the long run, safe transgenic technology will be the norm. Thanks.

sawzall83 karma

Agr student at a midwestern university here. I can say that I'm pretty tired of using the excuse of "feeding the world" via GMOs. The problem is the distribution of the food vs. the amount of production. Also, there are zero benefits for consumers currently with GMOs.

I guess, a question would be how do you feel about ownership of genes?

kevinfolta129 karma

You tap an important question. However, in the midwest you'll see that farmers value GM technology. It helps them do a tough job. Feeding the world? Not now, but the technology is inhibited by anti-scientific attack, parallel to climate change. Once we lift the scientific denial in the topic then maybe we'll see more application with people that could use it. And there are huge benefits to GMOs with regard to the environment. Bt cotton alone in China has severely cut the need for pesticides, on the order of hundreds of thousands of tons.

Ownership of genes? In my lab we have a few novel genes we've discovered that can increase fruit size and yield. If I can patent them, hire more people, train more students, and generate improved products for the industries I care about, I think that's a good thing. Right now, all on the remote-remote drawing board. Even if I had a great solution there is no way I could afford to commercialize it. That's a game only for the Monsantos/Bayers/Dows because of the high barriers set by regualtors.

Zaydene53 karma

Do you believe, based on studies, that GMOs will harm humans in the long run?

kevinfolta184 karma

Based on the current literature there is no reproducible, independent evidence of harm. It all comes from the same labs and is not in the best of journals. I can't say what will happen in the long run- no real scientist can. However, based on our understanding of the science there is no plausible means that the technology can be harmful any more than traditional breeding. Thanks.

skinnymidwest45 karma

I've heard of crop seed that kills itself after one growing season so that a farmer MUST pay for need seed. Aside from that, I do believe saving seed is illegal, is it not? My questions are:

  1. Is saving seed illegal and why?
  2. Do you find a living organism that is produced to feed humans, engineered to kill itself frightening and maybe a tad risky?

kevinfolta66 karma

This has been the case for 100 years with the introduction of hybrids to protect a company's hard earned intellectual property. Seeds from hybrids do not produce true-to-type offspring, ensuring re-purchase. Not new! Farmers that grow GMO crops agree to not save the seeds- they are the intellectual property of the company. It is not just GMOs. Farmers are not allowed to propagate NON-gmo ornamentals, fruits and vegetables protected by plant patents. These are superior lines that took a long time to create, so their propagation for production is forbidden except for the patent holder. This provides a means for a scientist or company to continue crop improment efforts.

DWOM43 karma

I find it difficult to accept that GMO and selective breeding equate to the same thing. Can you help me understand?

kevinfolta123 karma

They are not the same thing. Selective breeding moves tens of thousands of genes at one time, GMO 1-3. Much more precise with predictable, traceable outcomes. Selective breeding takes much longer due to linkage drag and the need to grow generations to fertility... e.g. transgenic apples resistant to scab made in a few years where selective breeding took over fifty. They absolutely are not the same-- you are right on.

RedZebraFeet42 karma

what kind of research do you do?

kevinfolta94 karma

I work in genomics, mostly in linking genes to the traits they control. We use GMO technology only as a tool to learn about biology. All in the lab. We use this information to guide traditional breeding efforts in strawberries and small, high value fruits. Unfortunately, even if we have a proven technology that could help farmers, we can't commercialize it. Too expensive, too much resistance. For now...

Roadrunner9941 karma

Most of the questions so far seem to be based on the health vs risk factors of eating GM plants. I'm aware that transgenic plants can be used for other highly useful tasks such as landline/radiation detection.

Are you working on anything related to non-nutritional issues? If so, what? And are there any major areas that you think GM plants may be incredibly valuable?


kevinfolta139 karma

Funny you should ask. We are partnering with a Spanish lab to make a plant that gives a strong visible response at the first onset of pathogen attack. It is not fertile with other fruits, so it can't cross out to non GMOs. It will give a visible warning to the farmer that a pathogen is present, allowing precise application of controls. Farmers will use less pesticide/fungicide, less in the environment, huge savings, less fuel, more precise applications, less for consumers to worry about. It is a fresh project just at the start, but could have wonderful environmental impacts.

Da_Dude_Abides40 karma

How hard would it be to make tomatoes produce cannabinoids?

kevinfolta104 karma

I get emails on this one a few times a year. I have to be careful and only say that it would be possible to make a BLT that would make you want another one.

solquin27 karma

1) How are most transgenes inserted? Viral infection?

2) Can you predict what the biggest obstacle that needs to be overcome is before next-gen GMO crops become the norm? Is it identifying the correct genes/specific alleles necessary to confer drought resistance or whatever, or is it going to be incorporating these genes into the target genome without making unwanted alterations to the resulting plant?

3)In your estimation, how long until a farmer can custom-order a variant of most crops that is optimized for the climate he or she works in?

4)If you aren't part of big ag, you may not know this one. How much of Monsanto's business model relies on the sale of Round-Up? In other words, would it be economically viable for them to sell seeds for climate resistance, which do not require further purchases, or would this model require seed prices to be too high?

kevinfolta57 karma

  1. Most transgenes are inserted using Agrobacterium tumefaciens, a natural, soil bacterium that performs genetic exchange as part of its life cycle. Scientists exploit its innate properties to introduce genes.

  2. The biggest obstacle will be correcting perception. Transgenics have been tarnished by fear and disinformation. I think that cis-genics, or using a plant's own genes to do the work will be the intermediate step, but it is scientifically unnecessary.

  3. Coming soon. I think that GM technolgies will greatly expand ranges and will be used to accelerate traditional breeding in concert with molecular markers.

  4. Big Ag built itself on proprietary hybrids that did not need downstream products. While roundup-ready has a product to use it, Bt corn, cotton etc do not. These are superior products that farmers choose, and will continue to do so based on performance.

Thanks for good questions.

ass_man00724 karma

Have you seen this study published online 09/20/11, Cross Kingdom Regulation by microRNA

As a scientist in GMO what is your understanding of the above article? Could you offer any more insight into the published work above?

What I also find interesting is that Monsanto doesn't serve GMO foods in there cafeteria because of choice to their employee's. No GMO @ Monsanto

GM Soya Fed Rats: Stunted, Dead, or Sterile

How Genetically Modified Foods Could Affect Our Health in Unexpected Ways

kevinfolta9 karma

This is a super cool paper in concept. I hope to see many labs jump into this area and expand the work. You should be surprised to know that there is NO mention of GMOs- despite how the anti-GMO interests have grabbed it. In fact, if you think it is indicative of GMO danger, you should never eat a traditionally bred crop! At least in a transgenic we know the sequences! The link to GMO via your last link above shows how the anti-science of the anti-GMO folks is based on lies. Very sad, because they mean well.

Monsanto cafeteria? I doubt that's true. I'd guess that the Big M would get a pretty good deal on their own food.

zefixoida23 karma

How would you describe your career field to a high school student?

What should they be studying to prepare for it?

kevinfolta51 karma

You need to learn critical thinking- how to approach every question with skepticism and understand what good information. You need to understand the scientific method and hypothesis testing.

Sure, you need chemistry, math, biology, etc, but most importantly you need challenging classes that jog your mind and think of problems in new ways.

Also- find an internship in a real lab. Learn how it works. Find a good role model that can guide your early career decisions. I train lots of high school students and undergrads- my favorite part of the job!

Most of all, listen to all points of view and have the courage to admit that you may be wrong- always try to find evidence that opposes your current thinking. Take care, and best wishes.

Roobomatic21 karma

Do the chemicals that break down vegetables in my stomach know the difference between GM tomatoes and heritage tomatoes?

Can you comment on the GMO food panic phenomenon, it seems really sky-is-falling to me, but I don't know a lot about the subject other than what I have seen on shows like Penn & Teller's BS!

kevinfolta68 karma

Your stomach cannot tell the difference. The GM/ non-gm are functionally equivalent in that there is no plausible way that the transgenes can affect guy physiology in humans. That's well established.

P&T are spot on. GM technology alters food, something we need and hold dear for traditional and societal reasons. We don't like messing with it in general. People that fear the technology are the same as those that feared hybrid crosses that spurred the Green Revolution that fed 1 billion people. Examine the peer-reviewed literature. That's the place to separate fact from distortion. Generally! It is the best thing we have. thanks.

lukethompson20 karma

Why do you say that anti-GMO sentiment is anti-science?

I think it is a serious mistake to conflate genuine concerns about the deployment of a technology with luddite, close-minded thinking. Remember, the use of a technology is by definition the application of science, not science (i.e., the pursuit of knowledge) itself. Many persons who are skeptical of GMO technology are very literate in the underlying science. I have a PhD in Microbiology from one of the United States' top research universities. I know, for example, that transgenic technology is not nearly as advanced as we are led to believe. The "gene guns" that are used to transform plant cells can insert the transgenes anywhere in the genome. This can interrupt existing protein-coding genes or lead to dysfunction in gene expression. It's likely that these changes could substantively affect the plant and the food it produces--perhaps producing new allergens--and it's also likely that these changes could go undetected in product testing (which isn't even required by the FDA due to the principle of substantial equivalence). There are, of course, many more legitimate concerns about GMOs, such as increased herbicide/pesticide/fertilizer use, damage to the soil due to these chemicals, loss of biodiversity, life as intellectual property, and so on. As a scientist, many of my colleagues are also concerned about these same issues.

tl;dr Concerns about GMOs are not based in ignorance about the science.

kevinfolta21 karma

It is anti-science in that the concerns are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. With your credentials you should be able to see that. Plus, all of your scenarios about protein disruption etc. could just as well apply to naturally occurring transposons and other genetic rearrangements. What about straight-up crosses? Induced polyploidy? Spontaneous polyploidy? All much more intrusive than adding a gene or two (and most labs don't use gene guns these days).

Moreover, the allergen argument is not substantiated by the science and chemical concerns are no different than conventional farming. Intellectual property is not GMO specific either- plants have been patented for well over a century.

So the arguments specifically levied against GMO technology are inconsistent with the state of the literature and are intellectually inconsistent with what is done by other breeding efforts. That is anti-scientific, denial of sound processes.

And there is FDA mandated testing. I know people that have been through the long and expensive process.

I'm happy to discuss this further, but being anti-GMO is like being anti-vaccination or anti-climate change. It is a sentiment inconsistent with the science.

littlesparrow718 karma

I suffer from a condition called salicylate sensitivity. I cannot consume any salicylates, nor can I use any cosmetics or household products that contain salicylates. Salicylate sensitivity was once very rare, but is now steadily growing among the general population. Since most plants contain salicylates in their leaves and/or fruit and or/seeds, I cannot eat 99% of fruits and vegetables.

Some people theorize that genetic modification has INCREASED the amounts of salicylates that plants produce, and I'm wondering if this is true? If so, we're likely consuming far more salicylates than ever before. An overabundance of salicylates is definitely aggravating things for myself and other sufferers of salicylate sensitivity, and some people even believe that it's leading to the development of the illness.

kevinfolta41 karma

Wow, I've never heard of this. In plants, salicylate is an important molecule in signaling plant defense responses. It is not present in high amounts, so your sensitivity must be extreme! I don't see how GMO/transgenic technology could increase this, but it would be easily testable. If there are real increases, it is likely due to stress on the plants- more fertilizers, depleted soils, weather extremes, new pathogens.

To the bright side, GMO/transgenic technology could be easily used to knock-down salicylate levels by intereferring with the well-known biosynthetic pathways. Maybe a solution in the future, but the plants would not be too happy! Take care.

rambojenkins18 karma

From someone with ties to "Big Ag", thank you for everything you do. I wouldn't have a job without people like you. :)

(And I'm going to steal some of your answers for when people bombard me about the evils of GMOs. :P)

kevinfolta23 karma

Thanks. I'm just interested in public education and the future of food. so important to clear this up. Best wishes.

[deleted]18 karma


kevinfolta110 karma

How about a more nuanced answer? In the future, GMO technology will be part of the locavore movement. As plants are precision engineered to grow in more locations, cutting shipping and logistical costs, you will likely see greater ranges of crops restricted by location and climate. Ultimately transgenic crops will lead to more choices of higher-quality, high nutrition foods.

saosinwin17 karma

Have you ever heard of this experiment? do you feel it gives reproducible, independent evidence of harm? It shows the third generation of hamsters fed only GMO soy, going sterile.

kevinfolta32 karma

It is work from one group that has never been independently reproduced. The study itself, as I recall, was based on very small numbers and while in a peer-reviewed journal has not opened new investigations. If it was real, you'd see hundreds of labs following up on the study. That's the way science works. I think the fact that it is a relatively dead end despite its potentially huge story is telling. Also, if the data were really compelling, it would be the cover story on Science or Nature, not an obscure journal. Could be something to it, but probably not. I'm waiting for more.

Dogmalix16 karma

Did you hear Amit got tenured up at Washington State? Also, do you think that securing funding for your lab effects the quality and direction of your research positively or negatively?

kevinfolta24 karma

Yikes, an inside question! Good for Amit- he called me right away. I'm really happy.

Funding affects the direction of research only in that we need to test hypotheses relevant to the funding agency's wishes. HOWEVER, funding NEVER influences experimental outcomes. The results are, what the results are.

The former is a problem. I find myself moving into areas I'm not comfortable with and spending a lot of time learning new areas just to be able to hire students and postdocs. However, I'm learning a lot. Thanks for the questions.

cerulean_blu10 karma

HOWEVER, funding NEVER influences experimental outcomes

I find it interesting that you make the specification that funding doesn't influence experimental outcomes, but mention nothing about how funding can absolutely influence what is done with that data, whether promoting it or burying it, as well as how the data is presented, which is frequently skewed to be beneficial for the group paying for the research. Thoughts?

kevinfolta4 karma

I can't support that statement. The data are what the data are. We show them. That's how I roll. Sometimes they support the hypothesis, sometimes not. That's why we do research.

Skewed to be beneficial to the group paying for it? What they are paying for is the Truth. There is no merit in "skewing" data. Facts always come out and one must never sacrifice a reputation. Bogus data does no good for a company. Facts rise to the top sooner or later- they need it sooner especially in litigious times.

jotasay7 karma

I've worked in many academic labs, including one ran by an MD-PhD. When a grant deadline was approaching, she did in fact make up results to secure funding. It does happen.

kevinfolta11 karma

That's horrible. Every grant proposal I submit, I sit and say, "If I only had this piece of data..." It would be unethical to do such things. I once put a figure in a proposal that I later found out was labeled wrong- I got cold sweats and could not sleep until I contacted the program manager and told her to disregard that figure. Didn't get funded, at least in part probably because fo that.

[deleted]14 karma


kevinfolta14 karma

Cool. I'll take a look. I'll need to know it because it will come up again in these discussions. Thanks.

FertileCroissant10 karma

Do you think companies should be required to label things as GMO?

What are your thoughts on patenting organisms, genes, etc?

kevinfolta35 karma

More information is always good, so in theory I'm all for labeling. However, do we also then have to label intra-specific crosses that move tens of thousands of genes randomly from conventional breeding? That would be intellectually consistent. The problem is that the anti-scientists in the anti-GMO movement have scared people to death, and labeling will just provide a target to instill these fears. I'm a scientist, environmentalist, and have concern for workers and consumers. I don't fear GMO technology, maybe because I'm so connected to it and understand it. That's why I'm here.

Lars010 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. I feel a lot of people are concerned GM food being 'dangerous' or 'unnatural', and I am glad you are here to correct some of these pre-conceived notions.

Are there any crops that are more difficult to manipulate than others?

kevinfolta9 karma

You're welcome- important topic with lots of bad information out there.

Traditionally, maybe ironically, the grains have been more recalcitrant to transgenic manipulation. However, corn, rice etc are pretty much routine now. Wheat is still a challenge, but improving.

Some plants, like tobacco, are really easy to work with. Petunia too.

kevinfolta3 karma

Yes, it is super cool stuff. I really hope that other labs jump on this and show similar results and expand this science. Cross kingdom control would be really interesting to see in more places.

I do object to the way that this study has been co-opted by the anti-GM interests. It does not say anything about GMOs and if anything, it would be a lot easier to make predictions about GM crops than regular crosses!

WebZen10 karma

Is Monsanto evil?

kevinfolta26 karma

I'm a scientist. I don't like any company dominating market share so much and would love to see new products and new competition. However, lawmakers are owned by Big Ag and activists want regulations and restrictions high. This is a perfect storm that will ensure Big Ag's long-term survival!

[deleted]8 karma

What do you think of Monsanto and of the constant negative attention it attracts, particularly on Reddit?

kevinfolta29 karma

I have mixed feelings because I'm a scientist that supports GMO technology, not what companies necessarily do with it. As stated earlier, those that oppose Monsanto et al should seek to loosen restrictions on deployment and commercialization of GMO technology- let in new competition! Seems strange, but that's the best way to oppose them.

LouisWinthorpIII6 karma

Do you think that GMOs will significantly alter evolution on a short-term scale, like in the case of Monsanto's Round-Up resistant "superweeds"?

kevinfolta40 karma

We have been farming crops (plants) that never were here, don't belong here, and require huge amounts of chemicals/labor/fuel to be here. It is all unnatural. The 14 species of Roundup resistant superweeds are just like the hundreds of other superweeds created by more harmful, hazardous chemicals in previous decades. Roundup is safer for workers, the environment and consumer. Yes, we will need another solution as roundup looses effectiveness, but that's the battle to grow food for our growing planet. Thanks for a good question.

awrobot6 karma

I know you said that you are not associated with Big Ag -- I am aware, also, that the concern I express here is most commonly associated with the larger companies, but nevertheless; Aside from the actual chemical breakdown, which I don't claim to be an expert in, what concerns me the most is the idea of loss of small-farm ownership through cross-pollination. I imagine that, though you are not affiliated with some of the major offenders, if a GMO crop produced by your company happened to pollinate a neighboring farm and you were aware of it, you would want the contaminated plants to be removed, lest the farmer benefit from the incident without paying for the rights to the plant or pollen. Do you feel there is anything that can be done (or is being done) to prevent this? To keep the farmer from being penalized? Or, for that matter, to keep the farmer's crop from contamination in the first place? Assume, perhaps, that he is an organic farmer, to boot -- suddenly, his entire crop is gone to waste, completely unmarketable as organic with the introduced component.

kevinfolta6 karma

This is a common concern and an area I have not kept up on. I'm an expert in the science of the process, not so much the legalities. I have followed this to some degree and it seems like when lawsuits come down they do have substantial evidence of impropriety, not just pollen drift. I was surprised at how few lawsuits there actually were, and how many actually went to trial (it was a small number, under 10 I think). Admittedly, not the focus of my expertise or interest, but I'll look into it.

alphonus5 karma

No questions, but I'd just like to say thanks for doing the AMA! I'm a Biotech student, and I hope to work with plants when I graduate. I used to be mostly against the idea of GMOs, but I've learned what great potential the technology holds.

...ok one question: Are there many companies outside of Big Ag that do what you do? I have 2 years left of my degree, but it would be great to do a co-op somewhere other than a quality assurance lab.

kevinfolta10 karma

You are in the cat-bird seat. If you have two years left study plant breeding. Traditional breeding using marker-assisted selection (non-GMO at this point) is a HOT area. Students get GREAT jobs with BS, MS and PhD. Eventually this will dovetail with GM technology. For now, breeders are in HUGE demand and there are not enough being produced!!! Look into it and contact me if you'd like more info. You might likely retire a multi-millionaire!

uppfinnarjocke5 karma

I have heard that GMO is often used to increase tolerance to pesticides (instead of increasing tolerance to the pests, in order to sell more pesticide), is that true, and any comments? Could it be that it is much easier to provide pesticide tolerance than pest tolerance?

kevinfolta18 karma

I think you are confusing herbicide with pesticide. Some GM plants are made to be herbicide resistant. That uses more of some herbicides, less of other more toxic ones.

Pesticide resistance? It is true, but it is true of any mechanism to control pests. What GM /transgenic technology provides is a much more durable mechanism (Bt protein is good example). It is hard to develop resistance because of its mechanism.

roshi945 karma

How much are you paid?

edit: coming from a student that might go into genetics at university.

kevinfolta25 karma

A starting Assistant Professor at a large university starts out around $70k and you get occasional bumps based on merit and funding availability/budgets etc. It is a LOT less than I could make in industry (and I've turned down opportunities at Big Ag) because I love to teach and train students and have freedom in my work. That said, I can't believe I actually get paid to do the work I do. Every day is a pleasure and I am very fortunate to have my job, students and colleagues.

saosinwin4 karma

How do you feel about companies like Monsanto dominating their market in the U.S.?

kevinfolta22 karma

They dominate the market with a few others. The system is set up to be self sustaining to that domination. A guy like me can NEVER compete, even if my lab invented a crop with 100x more output. The regulations favor big ag. If you want to see them lose market share, LOOSEN the restrictions, use more sophisticated rules, and let the smaller companies compete! How's that for a counter-intuitive answer?

Moon-Base4 karma

How applicable is GMO technology to growing Agave Cacti on the nutrient barren Lunar regolith?

We need our tequila in space.

kevinfolta3 karma

The agave are no problem and take well to the regolith- it is the limes that are the problem.

Melivora_capensis3 karma

This may not be your field exactly, but what's preventing people like Craig Venter from efficiently producing biofuels from modified algae? I heard that he had essentially given up on modifying algae, deciding instead to attempt synthetic oil-producing organisms.

Subquestion: I've heard about the possibility of modifying plants to produce pigments that absorb wavelengths other than those absorbed by chlorophyll a and b to make super-efficient black plants. Is this a real possibility? What would be the major obstacles to overcome? Or is it completely ridiculous?

kevinfolta5 karma

I don't know the answer on the first one, but algal biofuels is a hot area right now. I think you'll see lots on this going forward.

Black plants? maybe. Just remember that light does not only fuel photosynthesis, it also dictates growth and development via photomorphogenesis. It is a complicated system. I think that such things are a little science-fictiony at this point, but how knows?

WhitePostIt3 karma

    1. Are any seeds sold in stores GMOs?
    1. why do you go straight for a lab solution rather than rely on tricks that have been used for hundreds of years to increase yield and repel pests? I use companion planting, and certain plants that attract parasitic and predatory insects, lizards, and pollinators, as well as make my own compost, and provide bee hotels. I never have problems, and they're cheap and easy. Why rely on something expensive?

kevinfolta5 karma

None for sale. Highly regulated. I can't even send transgenic research seeds without paperwork.

Your second solution is nice, but can't be adapted for a production scale without increasing food costs through the roof. It is hard to manage one crop, let alone intercroppings, at least on an industrial scale. Plus, when the technology is safe, why bother?

fordarwin3 karma

What are the observed and documented long term effects (if any) of consuming GMO foods on the human body? Specifically, any changes in body chemistry - neurotransmitters, hormonal delivery, blood PH factors etc...

kevinfolta4 karma

None documented, but none anticipated. There are only 1-3 genes added to a transgenic, versus tens of thousands moved by traditional breeding. Plants are wonderful factories for toxic compounds and allergens and I'd be more concerned with wide genetic crosses more than GMO.

Proteomic, gene expression and metabolic profiling shows minimal differences between GMO and wild-type plants. Any evidence to the contrary would be huge news.

facemelt3 karma

You seem more like a gameshow host.

kevinfolta3 karma

I'll take that as a comple-sult! Sure I do science, but my background is also in communication. If it takes simplifying an issue to Alex Trebeck level to help people understand, then circle gets the square.

lizardlemon3 karma

I am an entomologist, and I would like to ask you a few questions about insect resistance to Bt crops. European Corn Borer and Corn Rootworm, the two major insect pests of corn in the United States, very quickly begin to show resistance to Bt after only a few generations, often because farmers do not follow the correct protocols for planting refuge plants.

How do you feel about:

1) Increasing the percentage of refuge plants in RIB (Refuge in the Bag) for all production corn sold in the US?

2) Stacking or pyramiding Bt genes to reduce the percentage of refuge plants in RIB for all production corn sold in the US?

kevinfolta3 karma

  1. RIB is a cool idea. I never heard of this.
  2. They are stacking the different Cry genes and it still is reasonably durable resistance. I could be wrong, but it seems to still be very effective.

Flinchie3 karma

Lets get away from Monsanto bashing, its clear they dont do good business. I'm currently going into 3rd year of uni, focusing on microbial genetics/environmental microbiology.

Im still worried about harm caused by gmo foods, things like the Pusztai affair? The results were far from conclusive, but should of been further followed up for sure. Also, how dangerous are the trans genes in terms of gene transfer harming wild species, as well as the harm in these genes infecting those who grow non GMO crops?

Its such a shame that the actions of Monsanto and their influence in American politics to rush through these new technologies to human consumption has tarnished the name of GMO

kevinfolta3 karma

The fact that there has been no follow-up on Pusztai in a decade should tell you about the reproducibility and quality of that study. Yet, it is held up as gold by anti-GMO interests.

The second point relies on two chance events- horizontal gene transfer, then selection for the transgene. While plausible, it is certainly unlikely that such event could have negative implications. It is important to guard against it and monitor, certainly.

tadtedson3 karma

Deleted my previous post. It wasn't my intent to question your integrity, but I see now that what I said previously amounts to that. I'm certain that your intentions are sincere, but I still believe GMO to be incredibly dangerous in the political and economic environment in which we operate, and I don't believe any amount of competition is going to resolve those problems. I nonetheless apologize and wish you the best in your work.

kevinfolta3 karma

Thanks Tad. If this stuff was so dangerous I'd be the first one calling it out. In fact, it still could happen. They day it does I'll apply for my Nobel Prize. Until then, I just have peer-reviewed evidence. That's my job here. It is an important topic I know a little about and want to share some ideas. I think the discussion is pretty good, 'cept for the death threats. Take care.

yup_ok3 karma

Not totally sure if this is your field but would it be possible to modify a tree to where it would grow to great heights within a short time like 5 years?

kevinfolta6 karma

It is being done, and if the rootstock is modified the scion is not GMO. Traits have been installed to promote rapid growth and also early flowering in various tree crops.