The molecular and genetic revolutions of the late 20th century gave rise to new gene-based approaches in agriculture. Despite the widespread acceptance and use of older gene modification technologies in agriculture, the use of the new molecular techniques came under fire early in their development in the mid-1980s. Today, only crop plants and animals modified by molecular techniques are designated “genetically modified organisms” or GMOs. Despite substantial evidence of their safety and efficacy, GMOs remain embroiled in fierce controversy.
The lecture will address both the historical origins of the GMO controversy and its current manifestations in widespread protests, often focused on multinational biotech companies such as Monsanto, and destruction of public sector GMO research efforts. Despite these on-going conflicts, the GM crops that have reached markets have been adopted very rapidly by farmers around the world and have provided substantial economic and ecological benefits in countries permitting their adoption. However, many potentially beneficial GM animals and crops, such as the Golden Rice pictured, remain mired in costly and lengthy regulatory requirements.
Nina V. Fedoroff is Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and Willaman Professor of Life Science at Penn State University. She is a member of the External Faculty of the Santa Fe Institute and Distinguished Professor of Biosciences Emerita of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. She serves as Science Adviser to the Global Knowledge Initiative, which she established to forge collaborations between scientists in developed and developing countries. She is a trustee of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and a member of the Science Advisory Board of the Santa Fe Institute. Nina received her BS from Syracuse University and her PhD in Molecular Biology from Rockefeller University. She was a member of the faculty at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and the Johns Hopkins University before joining the faculty at Pennsylvania State University. At Penn State Nina has served as Director of the Biotechnology Institute and as founding Director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. She is an author of three books and more than 160 papers in scientific journals. She is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2006. She was Science and Technology Adviser to the US Secretary of State and to the Administrator of USAIDA. Nina was President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012 Before becoming a scientist, Nina worked as a Russian-English translator, serving as the Assistant Manager of the Translation Bureau Biological Abstracts, and as a musician, playing flute in the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and teaching.