AMSA hosts lecture on GMOs

By Ruby Dickson

On Tuesday, April 7, the Lawrence chapter of the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) held a lecture on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This event was hosted in the Warch Campus Center cinema and was open to Lawrence students, faculty and the general public.

Sophomores and AMSA co-presidents Deep Tripurana and Chris Tovoinen discussed the motivation for planning the event. Tripurana stated that “there’s a lot of misinformation about GMOs out there, that it’s often a negative word. We wanted students to understand that this is an issue with a lot of different perspectives.”

Tovoinen emphasized that “we weren’t hoping to politicize this … we just wanted to inform people, and to let them come to their own conclusions.” As such, both halves of the event presented both good and bad effects of genetic modification.

Professor of Biology Beth De Stasio and Professor of Chemistry David Hall presented on the topic from their own perspectives of biology and chemical environmental protection, respectively. The event was divided in half, with the first segment concerning the effects of GMOs on human health and the second half covering environmental effects of GMO use.

De Stasio’s lecture was a balanced discussion of the positives and negatives of GMO use. She stated that she wanted to present a nuanced view of the topic, and that “it’s not all ‘technology bad,’ or ‘technology good.’ Rather, it’s how you use it, and if you’re responsible in using the capabilities you have.”

The lecture presented a wide variety of the genetically modified products, such as insulin, which have improved human lives, in addition to an expression of support for research and consumer safety standards in all scientific fields. De Stasio emphasized that modern genetic modification is only an advanced form of the millennia-old practices of domestication and selective breeding. De Stasio ended her portion of the event by affirming that everyone in the room had likely eaten genetically modified food at some point.

The second half of the event was led by Professor Hall, who spoke of the various chemical and ecological effects of the use of genetically modified organisms. Although this field does not directly relate to his research, Professor Hall demonstrated his understanding of the field as it relates to environmental studies. He noted that “what [De Stasio] was talking about are things which can be kept inside a lab … This isn’t just limited to scientists.”

The message of his lecture was that GMOs can be used as tools to overcome the problems and limitations of agriculture and other pursuits. For example, he noted that this technology may be useful for “sustainability, considering the population explosion.” Although GMOs are useful, he urged that “nothing is black and white.” His lecture also highlighted some of the ways in which genetically modified crops and other organisms can be damaging to the environment and to species who depend on it.

Both professors expressed the desire for audience interaction, and incorporated the use of “clickers” in their lectures, frequently asking questions of the audience. Professor Hall in particular approved of students “asking a lot of questions, and thinking carefully.”

The event filled the Warch Campus Center cinema with approximately 100 participants representing diverse academic interests.