SCOPEing with Genetically Modified Foods

No doubt about it, the genetic modification of organisms is a controversial scientific pursuit. It holds hazards aplenty, including the potential for accidentally releasing a catastrophic genetic trait into the environment. Yet it also holds the potential for enormous humanitarian gains—a recently developed strain of GM rice may well save the lives of over 1 million children who each year die from vitamin A deficiency. Well, now there's a Web site that deals with the controversy in honest terms.

“Controversies Surrounding Genetically Modified Food” is a newly launched Web-based forum operated by the SCOPE (Science Controversies On-Line: Partnerships in Education) Project (http://scope.educ.washington.edu), a collaborative effort by scientists at the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Washington and Science magazine. Their goal is to provide the public and policy makers with the tools to understand the debate over genetically modified foods by providing information from top scientists in the field who study the techniques of genetic engineering and their impact on human health and the environment.

SCOPE provides a wellspring of information. The site contains articles on such topics as horizontal gene transfer (“What might happen if these new genes spread?”), pathogen resistance (“Helping plants help themselves—it is possible? Is it safe?”), and “High-Throughput Plant Genomics.” It offers an online glossary of terms, links to relevant sites, a model curriculum for teaching the science of genetic modification, a resource library, and answers to questions posed to scientists by editors at Science magazine.

This is a truly unique approach to dealing with controversial scientific issues, one which enables scientists to provide their unique insight into very relevant and very tricky topics that effect us all. It also provides an enormous amount of informative material on an extremely complex subject.

Kudos to the producers of SCOPE!

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