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SitP: Larry Gilbertson on GMOs and Biotech

Posted on : 04-06-2015 | By : John | In : Skeptics in the Pub

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a field of growing grain

Feeding the world

The population of the earth will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. Arable land is decreasing, dietary preferences are shifting in the emerging economies of the world, and climate change will present further challenges to food production. Meeting the needs of the growing, changing planet will require new approaches and technologies. Biotechnology is an important approach to improve agricultural productivity that, combined with other practices, has the potential to solve some of these challenges. The commercialization of genetically modified plants began in the mid-1990s with launch of herbicide tolerant and insect protected crops, which were widely adopted by farmers in the US and other countries. More varieties with new and improved traits have been released since then, with a robust pipeline for the future.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Not so fast, say some. There is currently an ongoing, robust debate involving many sectors of society, include skeptics, over how agriculture and food production should work, the role of new and emerging technologies, including the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the role of multi-national corporations in agriculture.

Dr. Gilbertson in his lab

Dr. Larry Gilbertson

At this meeting of the Boston Skeptics, Dr. Larry Gilbertson will talk about the science of GMOs and the research at Monsanto Company. He will also answer questions collected from skeptics via social media, facilitated by Mary Mangan, a member of Boston Skeptics, as well as from the audience in the room.

Dr. Gilbertson is a Monsanto scientist in the company’s Biotechnology organization. He fell in love with basic research while taking biology courses as a pre-med major, and quickly changed plans to attend graduate school instead. He became so infatuated with lab work that he courted his girlfriend (now wife) with heart shaped pink and white Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast) designs in petri plates.

Dr. Gilbertson joined Monsanto in 1995 as a post-doctoral researcher out of curiosity (and a bit of skepticism) about industrial career paths, and was won over within a week by the shared passion for science that he saw among his colleagues. He has worked on and led a variety of teams performing original research in plant transformation, gene expression, vector technology, and insect control, leading to 26 patents and breakthroughs that have enabled the advancement of the Biotechnology pipeline. He currently leads a Monsanto protein engineering team in Cambridge MA.

Dr. Gilbertson has been a Monsanto Science Fellow since 2004, and was recently recognized with the 2014 Monsanto Science and Technology Career Award.

Dr. Gilbertson is from the heart of the corn belt, Iowa, but rarely came close to corn plants until he joined Monsanto. He received a B.S degree in Biology from the University of Iowa and a Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Oregon. He has taught graduate courses plant biology and genomics at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and at Washington University in St. Louis.

Location: We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, June 22, 2015 in the third floor of The Hong Kong Restaurant, 1238 Mass Ave in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

RSVP or leave questions for Dr. Gilbertson on our Facebook event page. You can also leave questions for Dr. Gilbertson on our Meetup page, at reddit/r/skeptic, or on the SGU forums, or tweet them to Mary (@mem_somerville).