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Industry Insider Enjoys Workshop Experience

EDITOR'S NOTE: This guest blog represents the perspective of a professional working in one of the ag biotech companies that make North Carolina a world leader in the industry. She participated in a June 2014 week-long summer workshop created by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and industry partners for middle and high school science and ag teachers. This was the fourth of these workshops designed to increase knowledge and confidence about agricultural biotechnology topics, to improve communication regarding biotechnology’s role in agriculture, and to stimulate student interest in ag biotech careers. Teachers carry out hands-on activities, hear from and connect with industry representatives, receive lesson plans and curriculum materials for their classrooms, tour multinational ag biotech companies, and meet with farmers/growers. The 70 North Carolina teachers who have participated so far expect to share their new knowledge with some 35,000 students statewide. See a blog from one of the workshop instructors here, and from one of the teachers who enrolled in the workshop here.

Hope Hart enjoying an outing with her family

This summer I had the pleasure of participating in the “Ag Biotech Industry in the Classroom” workshop. My presentation explained how we assess the safety of genetically modified (GM) crops at Syngenta and answered many of the most common societal concerns about the impact of GM crops on human, animal, and environmental health. 

Over the past few years, I’ve discussed GM crop safety with many groups, and this event is by far my favorite. I loved working with the teachers. They were such a fun and engaged audience. They were inquisitive, open-minded, and genuine. During the discussion, they certainly did not take it “easy” on me. 

We covered topics such as long-term effects of GM crops, whether insect control crops affect non-target organisms such as bees and butterflies, the many quality standards used in generating safety data, and how to tell the difference between a sound science experiment and one that is not scientifically sound. 

I love that the teachers were willing to voice their questions and were open-minded to different opinions from their own. These are the characteristics I hope my sons’ science teachers have. They clearly love learning as much as teaching.

The workshop was an opportunity to showcase the benefits of agricultural biotech research going on right here in our home state of North Carolina. It helped to increase awareness and understanding of GM crops, separating fact from fiction. There is a lot of public misunderstanding and miscommunication around GM crops. It was wonderful to help the teachers sort out some of the confusion. 

Teachers have an instrumental role helping our children develop into lifelong learners. Knowledge grows exponentially when they take information back to their classrooms. I believe that one of the most efficient ways to educate the public is to involve teachers. I’m already looking forward to the next workshop!

Hope Hart is a technical leader in Syngenta’s product safety group, which assesses the safety of Syngenta’s GM crops. She obtained a Master of Science degree in microbiology at North Carolina State University, conducting her thesis on starch metabolism in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Hope’s 19-year career at Syngenta has included identification and characterization of novel insect control traits, molecular characterization of transgenic plants for environment and human safety assessments and global regulatory submissions, and delivery of detection methods for identification and quantification of Syngenta’s transgenic events. During Hope’s tenure as a research scientist in the insect control group, she discovered the gene ecry3.1Ab, the active ingredient in Syngenta’s newest corn rootworm trait Agrisure Duracade.

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