the development of new sources for biofuels (inform, 23:206-
210, 2012). In one study, researchers engineered plants to
generate six times more lipids in their leaves than their non-engineered counterparts (Plant Biotechnol. J., 9:874-883, 2011).
The biggest challenge in the field of GE crop development,
however, will be winning the public’s trust regarding GE foods.
Without consumer demand, Knowlton explained, companies
have no guarantee that they will be able to make up the cost
of producing GE crops specifically designed with their needs
in mind. “It’s an expensive technology… and [companies] have
to have some assurance in the end that there’s a payback on
the investment,” she said. But “until consumers recognize that
things can be done to address and improve their lives specifically, it’s hard for them to readily adopt the technology.”
Knowlton believes that educational initiatives like GMO
Answers ( http://gmoanswers.com/), a website that allows
people to submit questions and receive answers from biotech
supporters including scientists, farmers and science communicators, will help win over the public for GE foods. “There’s a
very bright future,” she said, “because a lot of changes, certainly in the fats and oils space, can be made providing things
like omega-3s [and other healthful fatty acids] in oils. These
are all changes that are technically doable, but you need the
consumer acceptance to roll them out.” GMO Answers, which
is funded by members of The Council for Biotechnology Information, which includes BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSci-ences, DuPont, Monsanto Company, and Syngenta, highlights
the vast potential of GE crops to increase crop yields, maximize
land mass and water resources, and provide food to an ever-increasing global population. The success of such initiatives,
which are still in their early stages, are yet to be determined.
While web-based educational initiatives that address pub-
lic concerns on a large scale are important, McHughen believes
every scientist has a responsibility to speak up and engage
with the people in their sphere of influence on the topic of
GE foods (for McHughen’s advice about public engagement,
see “Addressing common myths about genetically engineered
plants” on page 75). Although it can be extremely frustrating
at times, he said, “it can be very rewarding when you talk to
people who say, ‘Thank you, I’ve learned so much.’” And it
may be the only hope of realizing the full potential of GE crops
for the benefit of the world.
Christine Herman is a science writer for AOCS.