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tv   Tech Know  Al Jazeera  July 18, 2015 6:30pm-7:01pm EDT

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ge. >> gripping. inspiring. entertaining. talk to al jazeera. only on al jazeera america. >> this is "techknow". a show about innovations that can change lives. >> the science of fighting a wildfire. >> we're going to explore the intersection of hardware and humanity, but we're doing it in a unique way. this is a show about science... >> oh! >> oh my god! >> by scientists. tonight: >> [crowd chanting] hell no, gmos! >> techknow investigates gmos. >> you can't just tell me it's safe. >> strawberries that battle bacteria. tomatoes that resist to spot and apples that don't turn brown. >> so walk me through what it is about this strawberry plant - >> a new generation of genetically modified food sets off a new round of anger and fear. >> i should have punched you in the... "blank" face.
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>> now techknow goes to the experimental fields where scientists must stay under the radar to conduct the research. >> people get excited about technology whether it's in their phone or in their car, so why is it so wierd on their plate? >> cara santa matia is a neuroscientist. >> what if i told you they were gmo strawberries? >> huh... >> she'll show us the latest innovations. >> so these tomatoes here are special tomatoes. >> then dr. shini somara is a mechanical engineer, she'll go inside the anti-gm movement. >> do you trust scientists? >> and i'm phil torres i'm an entomologist. >> you want to make a lab cocktail? >> that's our team, now let's do some science. >> hey guys welcome to techknow, i'm phil torres joined by dr. shini somara and cara santa maria. you guys let's jump right into it. gmos, just three letters but a whole lot of debate. and of course we're talking about genetically modified
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organisms here, anything from tiny bacteria to fish to even giant trees. and guys this debate it targets science and scientists. >> it's true you know the anti-gmo movement it's got a lot of street cred, it's very popular. but it's also really anti, i don't know another way to put it, it's anti-science. >> i covered the march against monsanto and i was actually really kind of personally hurt that most people think that science is a really bad thing when it comes to gmo. >> yeah and let's be real this is a sensitive one for us because we're scientists. but as scientists we're trained to look at the data and that's what we try to keep in mind as we investigated genetically modified foods... >> genetically modified food... a subject that inspires controversy and fear. >> [crowd chanting] hell no gmo! >> but one scientist is fighting back. trying to debunk one myth at a time...even if it means getting hate mail on a regular basis.
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>> i should have punched you in the "blank" face when i had the chance. if i come to florida i will make you and your family drink roundup..stay the "hmm" out of florida. i hope you and your family get brain cancer so you can see what it's like. sweet people. >> where does all this anger come from? >> i think the idea is to intimidate. i think if most scientists get this, they are unlikely to reengage with the public. >> kevin folta knows a thing or two about what exactly goes into genetically modified crops after all, he is the head of the department of horticultural sciences at the university of florida where researchers figure out new ways of growing fruits and vegetables. he's proud of the work, but also protective, he asked us not to disclose the location of these fields for fear that anti-gm activists would try to destroy them. >> the world trade organization just this week said "no labels
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on meat". >> the anti-gm movement is global. in the eyes of many protesters, monsanto, the world's largest producer of genetically engineered seeds has become nearly synonymous with gm food technology. there are currently 8 g-m crops commercially available in the us: corn, soy, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash. most of these are big ag crops that come from companies like monsanto and dupont. >> the big companies never do themselves any favors. they've been the last to the party to educate, they have been resistant in terms of transparency. and that's where folks like me kind of come into this. i'm no big corporate friend, i look at the data and we make decisions. and we try to distill for the public, what does the science tell us? frequently it tells them, a story they don't want to hear. >> one of those stories is about strawberries and how farmers in florida battle diseases that gm
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crops could eliminate. >> what you're looking at are two of the major pathogens that infect strawberries here in the state of florida. a fungal pathogen and a bacterial pathogen that devastated these plants. one of our big interests was how we could use a transgenic strategy, or this gmo type strategy to fortify a strawberry against disease. >> and that's this plant here, because this plant here sat in the same greenhouse, had the same warmth and the same water but didn't get sick. so walk me through what it is about this strawberry plant that makes it resist the fungus and the bacteria? >> well plants have innate systems that help defend them against pests and pathogens, and this particular plant, all of these plants have a gene called npr-1. >> the npr-1 gene is part of the strawberry's immune system and is expressed on when a plant encounters a pathogen. but in folta's gm strawberries this gene is already turned on allowing the plant to have greater resistance to disease. >> this plant thinks that the infection has been ongoing so it's essentially born thinking
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it has a problem. and what's nice about that is when a real pest or pathogen comes along, that plant is good to go. >> but growers already have a way to control diseases in strawberries: conventional agriculture uses synthetic fungicides and anti-microbial sprays while organic farmers can only use compounds made from naturally occurring elements. >> copper is not a very safe thing to ingest is it? >> no, it's a heavy metal. its expensive you have to apply it...it does accumulate in soil if you use it too much on the same soil it has risks around water. one place where we can imagine something like that would be hugely valuable would be on an organic farm, maybe a place where you can't use traditional fungicides. >> but under u.s. guidelines organic farmers can't use gm plants... and currently no farmers can grow folta's transgenic strawberry at all. >> you've shown proof of concept but they may never see a supermarket, why is that? >> what we are getting good at
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is creating good solutions that really end up dying in the lab...mostly because of the fear of the technology and very rigorous deregulation process. >> but strawberries aren't the only example from florida's experimental fields. a transgenic tomato could be an answer to a major problem. >> so this is what bacterial spot does as it starts to take hold. >> this is the beginnings of it right here. >> samuel hutton is a tomato breeder at the university of florida. he's been using genetic modification to battle a disease called bacterial spot. >> as the plant continues to get bigger then the leaves will get worse and worse. lower leaves that are green now will start to die off. and you'll have fruit on the bottom of the plant, exposed and those fruit are prone to sun scald. for tomato its our biggest problem in florida. >> hutton thinks he has a g-m solution. >> so these tomatoes here are special tomatoes right? >> yeah, yeah, this whole trial as a comparison of transgenic tomatoes with non-transgenic varieties.
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>> so when you say "transgenic" you're referring to... >> in this case, it's a pepper gene that was taken out of bell pepper and put into tomatos. it was a gene that was not there originally. >> you heard it right. scientists have inserted a pepper gene known as the bs-2 into tomatoes to make them resistant to bacterial spot disease. >> do you think that if this were to go to market that regular consumers would be more comfortable with the idea of a gmo tomato that has genes from a pepper? >> yeah, it's a natural gene, we know the protein product, we know what it does, we know it's safe and so something like that, a natural plant defense gene - it might come across more palatable to some people. >> palatable is key for researchers like hutton and folta who hope crops which have been modified with only genes from other plants will lead the way toward gmo acceptance. >> that's where we come to the sad part... there's only so many strawberries in the industry to produce money for farmers. it's not the kind of thing that
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to go through the costly deregulatory process would really be worth it. >> so this npr-1 strawberry is not deregulated? >> that's right... not deregulated. even though looks delicious, can't hurt you... um, you can't eat it. >> alright. >> coming up, i learn how to make a gmo. >> shh! >> we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation by following us on twitter and at aljazeera.com/techknow. >> the iran nuclear deal. >> every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off. >> for more depth... >> the narrative has shifted here in tehran. iranians want the sanctions ended. >> more perspective... >> every iranian will be happy. >> iran cannot be trusted. >> more insight... >> iran is actually trying to
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build trust with the international community. >> and more understanding... stay with al jazeera america.
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>> [crowd chanting] hell no gmo! >> few issues have so sharply divided scientists and the public than genetically modified foods. >> you can't just tell me its safe i'm supposed believe it? i'm not going to. >> a recent pew survey revealed only 37 percent of americans believe gm foods are safe in contrast to 88 percent of scientists...the result of a fervent grassroots movement driven by activists like this retired school teacher. >> scientists are trying to solve world food problems, by genetically engineering them. are you against that? >> i don't believe that! i believe they are trying to genetically modify food so they can own it all! >> do you trust scientists? i feel like you have an aversion to them! >> actually some of them can be
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trusted, but i think a lot of them can't be trusted! >> in spite of assurances from scientists--- based on hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, in the two decades since gm foods became available-many people fear them. three states have already passed laws requiring labels on all gm foods. >> so what is that the public need to know? >> the public needs to know that something is going into their food, that shouldn't really be there. >> the anti-gm movement is well-organized. there are plenty of groups plenty of passion and plenty of information, not all of it accurate. >> and you're dressed as a bee. >> this couple blames monsanto for colony collapse syndrome but when it came to providing supporting facts, they had few. and when we asked a very basic question... >> so what does gmo stand for? >> genetically modified, um... >> neither could answer. >> genetically modified... not organic. >> not organic.
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>> it's definitely not organic. >> much of the opposition has a target: ag giant monsanto or anyone associated with the company. >> [singing] yeah i want a cup of coffee but i don't want a gmo. >> in 2015 rocker neil young released this video that went viral lashing out at starbucks. >> [singing] i'd like to start my day off without helping monsanto. >> in the song, young accuses starbucks - along with monsanto of being part of an effort to overturn vermont's gm labeling law. but young may be wrong starbucks tells techknow it has not take a position on gmo labeling. feeling the backlash, food companies are increasingly jumping on the anti-gm bandwagon. chipotle recently announced it would start phasing out gm ingredients from its menu. the fast food company is trying to avoid the so-called monsanto effect-bad pr associated with gm foods.
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techknow asked monsanto to participate in this report but they declined. on the street, the company faces an information gap that is increasingly filled with seemingly incredible allegations. >> they want to control the seeds all over the world. so we believe that they also do weather manipulation with geo-engineering in the sky, we know they are part of that... so if they control the weather they control the seeds, they control the world. >> i think they are confused. i think when you make your focus to be anti-corporate now you are slamming a technology that could be used by a guy like me or anybody else to solve problems for people who desperately need it. >> increasingly scientists have become the target of the anti-gm movement. at least four university researchers were recently served a freedom of information act order to release all of their university emails by a group called "u.s. right to know". one of them was university of florida scientist kevin folta who told techknow's cara santa maria that part of the story.
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>> what are they looking for? >> what they say is we need to know how far the tentacles of collusion between the big ag companies and university scientists, how deep these go and what they are sharing. >> are you funded by large companies like monsanto? >> my laboratory has no funding from monsanto or any of the big 6, big ag companies. i don't care who, and this is a big deal, you could not pay me to fake data. >> yet the mistrust is evident some of it fed by the internet paints a picture of researchers in labs creating frightening science. during our interview with activist lorna paisely you can hear how she mixes fact with fiction. >> they take viruses and bacteria and insecticides and put them into the dna of our food that are totally unrelated, they're not even food most of the time. >> in an effort to demystify the science behind gmos, folta offered to show me how he makes his transgenic strawberries, using a technique involving something called, that's right
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agrobacterium. >> agrobacterium is a soil bacterium that we think of as nature's genetic engineer. what it does as a natural part of its life cycle is move part of its genome, so a piece of its genes into a plant. >> so this is something that happens all the time in nature? >> it does. it's a soil bacterium that is everywhere. >> but there's not just agrobacterium in this tube you've actually done something to that agrobacterium? >> right rather than agrobacterium inserting the gene it wants, i've asked agrobacterium to insert the gene i want. >> so now what we'll do is very simple. all we're gong to do is move our plant pieces into the medium. >> do i put mine in the same tube? >> sure, go ahead... >> so, now once we are in the medium we just give it a little shake... >> okay. >> and we'll let it sit for an hour and when we come back its done. >> so that we pretty easy, we didn't hit with any sort of radiation, we didn't use any scary chemicals, but this is plant tissue that is technically infected with a bacterium but that bacterium has a property that is hopefully going to make
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the plant taste better? >> in this case i think its going to change fruit firmness which is one of the major reasons we can't ship really good tasting strawberries is because they are too soft. >> so what is this going to grow up to look like? >> if you look in the back corner. this is kind of the after picture. >> they are so cute! >> using gm technology scientists can create a plant with new desirable traits in months... a process that can take conventional breeders years. and, according to folta, gm methods are more precise than conventional breeding. >> how many genes are being shuffled around when you're doing traditional breeding? >> well each plant background might have between 30 and 50,000 genes. >> and when you're doing genetic modification, you're making gmo, you're making a transgenic plant, how many genes are you moving around? >> one, two maybe three... it's always very strange to me that we can mix together whole genomes - 30,000... 80,000 genes, mix them together in ways we don't understand, using conventional breeding; but
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if i move 1 gene, that i understand, that's the one people get upset about. that's what i always call the "frankenfood paradox". >> coming up: the apple that won't ever turn brown.
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>> this might look like business as usual in the apple orchard rich state of washington. but these trees planted in late spring 2015 are the first approved gm apple trees ever to grow on u.s soil. the company okanagan specialty fruits would not reveal the exact location of the grove, but they did provide this footage. the apple is called the artic apple. the company also gave us this
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time lapse footage demonstrating the attributes of the fruit. the apple on the right has been genetically modified so despite the passage of time, it doesn't brown when it's been cut open. after 18 years of testing, the apple got the stamp of approval from the fda, usda and epa. >> are these apples safe to eat? >> yes they are safe to eat. they've been rigorously tested by fda, really to a fault. >> the apple was created by engineering it's own dna so it produces less of an enzyme called ppo, which causes browning. by silencing or turning off genes that control production of ppo, scientists have essentially created a non-browning apple. sounds like a neat party trick but it could also help reduce food waste the big question is: will consumers bite? >> the arctic apple is important because it goes to the consumer rather than to the farmer. and i think this is the first wave of products that we'll see targeted that way. >> when i think of sliced apples
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i think of soccer moms bringing snacks to her children. do you think these soccer moms are going to be frowned upon if they say, 'oh those apples aren't turning brown, that's so neat, why is that?' 'oh, they are genetically modified...' >> i think there are going to be a lot of soccer moms who freak out but at the same time you've got science moms and science moms are a pretty persuasive bunch. >> we wanted to see what people know and feel about gmos so we hit the streets with folta and asked them, would you eat a gm fruit if it was offered to you? >> so if i were to send some strawberries home with you would you eat them? >> yes! >> what if i told you they were gmo strawberries? >> huh... >> would you eat them? >> it sounds freaky. >> so it sounds a little freaky? >> yea. >> what do you know about gmos? >> nothing, i know organic is the way to go just with all the hormones and everything like that but i don't know a ton about gmos to be honest... they say a whole bunch of stuff can affect kids and different things like that. >> what you're saying is exactly what we hear from so many mothers, "i worry about the health of my child".
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that is a very common concern and a very common thought, i guess do you know how many people have been sick or died from gmos as they've been used over the 18 years they've been used? >> no i have no idea. >> how would you feel if it was zero? >> a lot more comfortable about gmos. >> that's good, that's good. >> people get excited about technology whether its in their phone or car so why is it so weird on their plate? this is where we have to think about that as scientists, how do we get them more comfortable with using technology? >> so what do you think this is going to take for this to get wide acceptance? >> for me, i think acceptance will come when it's a trait that consumers can relate to and it affects a crop that they really care. i really feel citrus may be the first domino. >> as techknow's marita davison first reported in 2014, a deadly disease called citrus greening is already devastating florida's orange groves. genetically modified oranges could be the solution that saves the industry. >> the first question i want to know is, would you eat this orange? >> yes.
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>> you like oranges? >> yep. >> so we're in florida and almost all of the trees are infected and dying. >> oh. >> now, let me ask you this, if it was a gene that came from spinach... >> yeah? >> that you eat in all your spinach salads and you know its safe because we've been eating it for years and a scientist is telling you... how about that? >> um, i guess, i guess there's really no other option if the orange trees are just dying anyway. >> researchers at texas a&m have shown promising results by inserting a spinach gene into orange trees in order to make them resistant to the disease. but it's a race against time... gm oranges can take years before they can be planted and bear fruit. meanwhile over 80 percent of florida's orange trees are infected and could be wiped out within a decade. >> there's a sense of urgency for us to produce a solution. >> manjul dutt is a citrus researcher who is working on solutions that could speed up mother nature, like the gm technology behind this purple lime.
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this transgenic lime gets its ruby color from another fruit. >> it's the same gene that produces the red color in grapes. >> but the color isn't just for fun, it helps gm researchers figure out if their gene transfers have been successful. >> we started working with that gene to use it as a selectable marker. you can have a culture dish that has ten million cells growing out and you can individual go and pick the ones that are purple in color and just discard the ones that are not. >> and so this is really a way at least in the earlier stages to know which of your plants have the gene of interest and which of them don't?. >> absolutely . >> these purple limes also have a second trans-gene taken from another citrus fruit, the clementine. its called the ft gene. this enhanced ft gene allows citrus trees to mature faster. dutt showed me an example of a three month old seedling... >> so as a lay person i look at this and i'm like, "oh it's a cute little plant", but if i was a farmer it would blow my mind to see these small seedlings already at a flowering stage.
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>> absolutely, absolutely. >> in contrast seedlings without the ft gene can take 7 to 8 years before they flower and start bearing fruit. if scientists are able to speed up the aging process of citrus plants, they could more quickly confirm whether some varieties of gm oranges are resistant to citrus greening-and save the florida orange. not to mention... purple margaritas could be the next big thing. >> you want to make a lab cocktail? >> oh absolutely, let's do it! >> meanwhile scientists will continue basic research on fruits like this so they'll have gm crops waiting in the wings, for when the public wants or needs them. >> i think we've learned that a disease shows up you better have something ready to combat it rather than kind of looking for a solution after the disease is there. >> so guys we're talking about possibly having these gm foods end up at our homes. cara you snuck a bite, what was it like? >> tasted like a strawberry. i mean it was a really good strawberry, i don't think it was
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because it was genetically modified, i think that kevin just knows how to grow a good strawberry. >> i think anything that involves a laboratory, a petri dish, and a pipette is gonna scare people, because it's to do with their food, and people just want to grow it and eat it. >> i mean yeah to be fair when you see a petri dish you don't necessarily get hungry. when you see a beautiful cornfield that looks like it's their family farm, you're like ok, that's what they want to eat. >> there are many things that concern me about gmo but one of the strongest things is that, ya know, the innovation is brilliant, what the scientists do is brilliant. genetically modifying anything is pioneering, but we don't know the implications. and the implications are so complex, it's many degrees removed from just taking a gene. it's altering ecosystems, and we don't know how that's happening. >> and that is one of the struggles here is the environmental implications that these things can potentially have. and that's what we're trying to understand. but if you look at the amount of pesticides or antibiotics,
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things like that that we're dumping into our ecosystems and we've been doing for decades and you compare that to using gm crops, lots of times they don't quite balance out. >> definitely. >> yes obviously a complicated and fascinating topic and we'll continue to follow the science and the controversy to keep you up to date on the debate. that's it for now, join us next time here on techknow. >> dive deep into these stories and go behind the scenes at aljazeera.com/techknow. follow our expert contributors on twitter, facebook, instagram, google+ and more. >> the fda isn't testing enough. >> now science is pursuing an organic alternative. >> these companies are trying out new technologies. >> no hormones are ever added into our tanks. >> mmm! >> techknow's team of experts show you how the miracles of science... >> i'm standing in a tropical windstorm.
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>> can affect and surprise us. >> wow, some of these are amazing. >> techknow - where technology meets humanity. >> this is aljazeera america. i'm richelle care in new york. here are today's top stories. a young sailor dice from his wounds, two communities mourning the loss of the petty officer randall smith chattanooga and his hometown in ohio. ires supreme leader indoorses the deal. >> a week after

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