Emeritus Academy Lecture Series

Allison A. Snow
Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology

"An Ecologist’s View of Genetically Engineered Organisms – Past, Present, and Future"

December 4, 2019
4-5 p.m.
Grand Lounge, Faculty Club

Dr. Snow studies emerging issues related to ecological impacts of genetically engineered organisms (GEOs).  In this talk, she will begin by explaining how professional ecologists viewed the first applications of genetic engineering in crop plants in the late 1990’s.  For several decades, only a few transgenic crops were commercialized worldwide (soybean, corn, and cotton), with many more in the pipeline.  Dr. Snow and her colleagues studied gene flow and ecological effects of transgenic traits with the potential to spread to wild or weedy relatives, including wild sunflower, squash, rice, sorghum, and biofuel crops like switchgrass and Chinese silvergrass. In 2005, she wrote a position paper for the Ecological Society of America about possible environmental risks to be avoided in the design of current and future GEOs.  Fast-forward to the present, and scientists now have very new tools at their disposal – CRISPR gene-editing and “gene drives” that could be used to modify or eradicate unwanted species such as mosquitoes, invasive rats, feral cats, and carp.  Suddenly, it is much easier to create novel GEOs, and internationally accepted policies are needed to evaluate these new GEOs going forward.