WiSE Outreach has long been searching for a way to connect with the adult community. We understand that an eagerness to learn and curiosity in science do not disappear as we become adults. We wanted to find a way to get the adult community excited about science and challenge them to think critically and ask questions like a scientist. On Saturday, April 13th, 2019, we were able to do exactly that with a special dual parent/kids event on GMOs that was the brain-child of WiSE Outreach Co-Chair, CSHL Graduate student, and plant biologist Lyndsey Aguirre. In collaboration with the Dolan DNA Learning Center “Saturday DNA!” series, WiSE Outreach hosted the “Get to Know GMOs!” event. There was fun for everyone; As children split from the parents to take part in hands-on GMO activities, their parents learned about GMOs from our keynote speaker, Doreen Ware, PhD and had their questions regarding GMOs answered by a panel of CSHL scientists.
For this event, children aged 10-14 took part in two fun activities related to genetically modified organisms. At one station, they learned about the basics of DNA. Things got a little messy as the future scientists mashed up strawberries and bananas to extract DNA. They were ultimately able to see the DNA as it precipitated out of the solution. For the other station, the children tested samples of processed food products for the presence of a GMO marker by gel electrophoresis. They also learned about a few GMO examples like golden rice enriched with a vitamin A precursor and rainbow papaya resistant to a devastating virus.
CSHL graduate student and co-chair of Outreach Lyndsey Aguirre demonstrates pouring an agarose gel (left) that students use to separate pieces of DNA from different crops to test for evidence of genetic modification (right).
For the adult portion of the event, we invited USDA researcher and CSHL Adjunct Professor Doreen Ware, PhD to be the keynote speaker. Early on, she set the tone of her talk to be inclusive, informative, and educational from all points of view about the topic of genetically modified crops. Doreen gave us a good introduction to the science behind GMOs and a great platform to base our GMO discussion on. Doreen Ware:
- Clarified what is/is not characterized as a GMO in the US. (Accelerating selective breeding by CRISPR is not considered GMO!)
- Taught us about the plasticity of plant genomes and McClintock’s “jumping genes”.
- Discussed how “non-GMO” farmers in the past have altered the genetic makeup of plants by selective breeding, EMS, and x-ray mutagenesis.
- Commented on how farming GMOs can reduce the amount of herbicides/pesticides needed for farming.
- Mentioned how the advances in sequencing have broadened the knowledge scientists have about plant genomes.
- Encouraged everyone to keep asking questions, even after today. The best we can do is continually educate ourselves!
When Doreen’s talk was complete, we invited CSHL graduate student Lyndsey Aguirre and Postdoctoral fellows Nick Gladman, PhD, and Jaynee Hart, PhD to join in the discussion as GMO panel members. The audience had many questions for our researchers. It was a lively discussion with many thought-provoking questions and comments. The panel answered questions about:
- GMO and organic labeling in marketing groceries.
- The importance of sustainable farming methods.
- The potential health effects related to GMOs
- The use of GMOs as vehicles for drug development
A panel of scientists addresses parents’ questions and concerns. From left to right: Doreen Ware, Nick Gladman, Lyndsey Aguirre, and Jaynee Hart, PhD
At the end of the event, many stuck around to ask more questions. It was a successful, stimulating day and we hope everyone was able to learn something new. We had fun uniting our WiSE scientists with the public to create excitement around science.
Cassidy Danyko, Chair of Outreach
To learn more about GMOs, follow these links: Food Evolution Movie: https://www.foodevolutionmovie.com/ List of Approved GM Crops in the U.S.: https://gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/which-genetically-engineered-crops-are-approved-in-the-us/ Debate on GMO food: https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/genetically-modify-food