By Katie Faulkner, ’17
Research on genetically modified organisms by a St. Bonaventure alumna and faculty member has been published in a journal and has led to a new course being offered at the university.
Biology major Aly Paz, ’15, did a study on public opinion on genetically modified organisms as a student in Dr. Xiao-Ning Zhang’s bioelective class Plant Development and Physiology. Though it began as a term paper assignment, Zhang and Paz decided to expand the study and submit it for publication.
“I was very excited when I got the assignment from Dr. Zhang and I knew there were two major things I wanted to investigate,” said Paz. “I wanted to find whether the strong feelings I had witnessed among my social group were representative of the general population, and if the negative information discouraging the use of GMOs being spread on social media was accurate.”
The research idea was inspired by existing confusions and varieties of conflicting information concerning GMOs. Zhang and Paz collected evidence on the public perception on the topic, while Paz took advantage of social media to disseminate her survey. Zhang is an associate professor and director of the biochemistry program at the university.
Overall, it was found that most responders were open to learning more about GMOs. Also, the age of the responders played a significant role in their opinions.
Paz’s study led to a new course that Zhang will offer in spring 2017 titled Inquiry In the Natural World: Introduction to Biotechnology and Laboratory. The course is designed to respond to the communication gap on GMOs between scientists and the general public observed in Paz’s study. This will be done by increasing public awareness on what GMOs are, how GMOs are created and how scientists address safety concerns.
“Because GMOs are products of biotechnology, the course will use GMOs as a vehicle to introduce different aspects of biotechnology,” Zhang said. “In the laboratory, students who do not have extensive background in biology will have the opportunity to experience the excitement of discovery that are tightly related to their daily life.”
Since graduating in 2015, Paz has been working as a hydrologic technician in Everglades National Park.
“The hydrologic monitoring program out here is vast, involving both marine and marsh environments,” said Paz. “Some of the variables we’re monitoring throughout the park are rainfall, water level, salinity, water flow and temperature.”
An abstract to their publication, “The GMO Industry: A Neglected Earthly Frontier,” can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19320248.2016.1227755
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