Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A New Twist in the DNA Revolution

Credit: vchalup

Credit: vchalup

By Guy Nolch

Gene drives take genetic modification to the population level, with applications in health, conservation and agriculture, but there are also practical and ethical concerns.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Since the dawn of agriculture, humans have been modifying the genomes of plants and animals through selective breeding, yet the acceleration of this process through molecular genetics has brought mistrust among the public. Even today, despite no evidence of harm from the long-term consumption of genetically modified foods, there remains widespread wariness of what some have labelled “Frankenfoods” despite the best efforts of the scientific community to “educate” the public about the issue.

Indeed, there is evidence that further education will not allay these fears, even among those with scientific training. A study of women’s attitudes to GM food by Rachel Ankeny and Heather Bray (p.28) has found that “women with health/nutrition backgrounds and those with molecular biology backgrounds... took different approaches to risk, respectively stressing a lack of evidence of safety and a lack of evidence of harm. This difference reinforces the idea that knowledge alone does not shape views on GM food, but that evidential standards and other values are critical.” These other values include preferences for “food that they described as ‘natural’ (by which they meant unprocessed), locally produced, healthy and nutritious, and free from additives”. Only plant scientists in the study didn’t consider GM foods to be in conflict with these values.

Now a new wave of genetic...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.