News / Science & Technology

    GMO Pioneers Win World Food Prize

    Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks during ceremony June 19, 2013, to announce winners of 2013 World Food Prize Laureate. Listening are, from left, World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan II and Janice RuanSecretary of State John Kerry, speaks during ceremony June 19, 2013, to announce winners of 2013 World Food Prize Laureate. Listening are, from left, World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan II and Janice Ruan
    x
    Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks during ceremony June 19, 2013, to announce winners of 2013 World Food Prize Laureate. Listening are, from left, World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan II and Janice Ruan
    Secretary of State John Kerry, speaks during ceremony June 19, 2013, to announce winners of 2013 World Food Prize Laureate. Listening are, from left, World Food Prize Foundation Chairman John Ruan II and Janice Ruan
    Three pioneers in the controversial field of genetically modified crops have won the prestigious World Food Prize, known as the "Nobel Prize for agriculture." The award credits the technology they created with increasing the quantity and availability of food, and providing a tool to help meet the challenges of a growing population and a changing climate. But the selection has been criticized by those who say the benefits of GMOs remain to be seen.

    In the 1970s, Belgian scientist Marc van Montagu discovered soil bacteria performing a kind of natural genetic engineering. Montagu says the bacteria insert a piece of their DNA into plant cells, which then produce chemicals that are good for the bacteria.

    “Once we [saw] bacteria can insert DNA to give a new property to a plant, we were able to replace that part of the DNA [with] DNA that we want that gives new, useful properties to the plant,” van Montagu said.

    Thus plant biotechnology was born. Mary-Dell Chilton and Rob Fraley produced the first genetically modified plants using that technology.

    Fraley worked at Monsanto, where he is now chief technology officer.

    “We were able to introduce genes that made it easier for farmers to control their weeds and to control insects, giving growers new tools,” Fraley said.

    Fraley says those new tools let farmers grow more while using fewer or less toxic chemicals.

    Farmers quickly embraced the new technology. They were first introduced in 1996. Today, about 12 percent of the entire world’s farmland grows crops that are genetically modified, according to the World Food Prize citation.

    Mary-Dell Chilton is now principal scientist at Syngenta Biotechnology. She was amazed how quickly GM crops caught on.

    “It really is astounding. And the reason for this acceptance is that the farmer has found that they work. They benefit him,” Chilton said.

    Last year, a record 17.3 million farmers around the world grew genetically modified crops, and more than 90 percent of them were small-scale farmers in developing countries.

    With the world expected to add another 2 billion people by 2050, demand for food and clothing will increase by at least 60 percent.  

    And biotech crops will help, said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, anouncing the winners.

    “It is simply true that biotechnology has dramatically increased crop yields. It has dramatically decreased loss due to pests and disease, and it allows us to feed more people without converting tropical forests or fragile lands in order to do so,” Kerry said.

    But more than 15 years after the introduction of these crops, critics still question their safety. Senior scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman with the Union of Concerned Scientists says the technology could have benefits, but whether it will be critical for feeding the world remains to be seen.

    “My understanding of the prize is you should be giving it to people that have shown major positive, unequivocally positive accomplishments in world agriculture. And I don’t see, so far, this technology being anywhere near that yet,” Gurian-Sherman said.

    Gurian-Sherman says the technology has put too much control over the seed supply in the hands of a few companies like Monsanto and Syngenta - companies that he notes are sponsors of the World Food Prize.

    The award will presented at a ceremony in the midwestern U.S. state of Iowa in October.

    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    US Internet Giants, EU Reach Deal to Combat Online Hate Speech

    Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft commit to ‘quickly and efficiently’ act to clamp down on use of social media to incite violence, terror

    Video Tunisia’s Ennahda Party Begins a New Political Chapter

    Party now moves to separate its political and religious activities; change described by party members as pragmatic response to political and economic challenges facing Tunisia today

    Virtual Reality Fine-tuned at Asia Tech Show

    Microchip designers hope to improve resolution for users of systems that can turn your bedroom into the ocean floor

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora