American professor Frances Arnold and British biochemist Gregory Winter, this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, say that misguided overreaction to fears about genetically modified food is preventing society from reaping the benefits of the technology.
“We’ve been modifying the biological world at the level of DNA for thousands of years,” Arnold said, citing examples such as new dog breeds. “Somehow there is this new fear of what we already have been doing and that fear has limited our ability to provide real solutions.” Winter said that the current regulations on genetically modified food need to be “loosened up.”
Arnold pointed out the many benefits of genetically modified food, suggesting that genetic modification can make crops more resistant to drought and disease, make food production more environmentally sustainable, and produce enough to feed the world’s growing population, according to the Guardian.
Arnold and Winter made their comments at a press conference Friday, prior to accepting their Nobel Prize at Monday’s ceremony. The two scientists, along with American biologist Greg Smith, won the Nobel Prize in chemistry this year for their work in using evolutionary processes to produce new antibodies and enzymes. Their groundbreaking work led scientists around the world to use the same processes to create new fuels and pharmaceuticals, leading to significant advances in medicine and environmental science.
The commercial sale of genetically modified food began in 1994 with the introduction of tomatoes with delayed ripening, and most genetically modified food is focused on cash crops modified for resistance to disease and more nutrients. Genetically modified livestock has yet to be introduced for commercial consumption, though livestock has been eating genetically modified crops for nearly fifteen years now. Genetically modified meat may soon be available for consumption due to the recent deregulation of various government agencies, according to Futurism.
There is a scientific consensus that genetically modified food poses no greater health risk than conventional foods. However, there is also a consensus that each genetically modified food needs to be tested on a case-by-case basis before introduction to the general population.
Frances Arnold is the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology. She graduated from Princeton with a Master’s Degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and earned her Doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.
Sir Gregory Winter earned his degree in natural sciences from Cambridge and his Doctorate from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, plus completed two postdoctoral fellowships at Imperial College of London and Cambridge. He has spent much of his career at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology.