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article imageOp-Ed: 'Glowing plants' Kickstarter causes controversy

By Tim Sandle     Jun 8, 2013 in Environment
A Kickstarter project that promises donors Arabidopsis seeds transfected with firefly genes is causing a debate over the misuse of genetics and the release of GMOs into the environment.
Initially the offer might appear attractive. A Kickstarter project promises to send those who donate seeds for the plant Arabidopsis thanliana (or 'thale cress') as well as roses. The plants have been genetically engineered to carry firefly genes that will cause the plants to emit a faint blue-green glow.
The Kickstarter in question is called the 'The Glowing Plant Project', and looking at the site, the company has raised more than $480,000 from over 8,000 backers.
Behind the commercial spin, the project is about more than buying pretty glowing plant seeds. The project has opened a new debate over responsible uses of synthetic biology and the release of genetically modified organisms into the environment.
The issue has triggered one anti-GM body, the ETC Group to launch its own campaign to stop the Kickstarter project. ETC is a Canadian pressure organization in Ottawa.
The group state: "This unregulated experiment would entail at least 238,000 seeds being planted in over 2,000 locations throughout the country. Donors could plant the seeds wherever they choose, meaning there could be field releases in tens of thousands of plots across the U.S. This is bad policy and would set a dangerous precedent for all future agriculture biotechnology products and may pose risks to local environments where these synthetically engineered organisms are planted."
However, the company behind the seeds have stated that they have met the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) existing regulations regarding the development of GM plants (according to the journal Nature). The USDA body responsible for approving such projects is the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
To this journalist, the releasing of genetically modified seeds into the environment in an uncontrolled way seems risky, especially for a project where the only objective is to create a soft glow (there are plenty of solar lights that will do the same thing). I think the debate is of environmental and ethical interest, please use the comments section below to express your views.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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