Scientists concerned Europe may fall short of producing 'world-class science'

By Michelle Yeomans

- Last updated on GMT

Scientists concerned Europe may fall short of producing 'world-class science'

Related tags Dna

Prominent plant scientists in Europe are concerned the continent may lose its prime research position unless field trials are allowed on genetically modified (GM) plant varieties that have been judged safe.

In an open letter, twenty-one scientists expressed their concerns that Europe may fall short of producing “world-class science” unless policymakers stop blocking GM research on “political” grounds.

According to professor Stefan Jansson of Umeå University in Sweden, “politicians that choose to ignore this message cannot in future say that they take science seriously.​”

Genetically Modified Organisms are plants and other living organisms derived from modern molecular biotechnology techniques that alter the genetics of the organism. Plant-derived (botanical) ingredients were among the very first cosmetics.

Cosmetic ingredients potentially derived from Genetically Modified Organisms include corn oil , soybean oil, lecithin and proteins produced by yeast.

Canola for example has been modified to produce high levels of lauric acid, a key ingredient in soaps and detergents, at a reduced cost to consumers.

'Plant science is hugely underfunded'

According to the scientists, funding for applied plant science should be maintained or, if possible, increased to develop plants that are resilient to climate change.

They also note in the letter to EU officials that they must also be able to perform field experiments as transgenic plants are blocked “not on scientific but on political grounds”​.

Lastly, the letter calls for Europe to allow the immediate authorisation of genetically modified plant varieties that have been found safe by 'competent authorities'.

Plants and cosmetics 

Researchers at Purdue University recently uncovered the process that naturally protects plants from sunburn and it could help scientists create sunscreens that offer better protection​.

Plants rely on sunlight to make their food, but they also need protection from its harmful rays, just like humans do.

Harsh ultraviolet radiation that plants are exposed to daily can cause serious damage to plant DNA and, as a result, hinder plant growth.

The scientists looked into the protection process and discovered a group of molecules in plants called sinapate esters that are produced and sent to the outer layer of the leaves to protect themselves from sun damage.

On coaxing the molecules into the gas phase and exposing them to UVB radiation from a laser in the laboratory, they found that the particular sinapate ester that plants use as a screen against UVB was inherently capable of soaking up radiation at every wavelength across the UVB spectrum.

Their findings published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society​, ​further shored up the idea that this class of molecules does indeed comprise plant-made sunblock.

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