"GM Crops: Food for Thought"
Professor Christopher Leaver FRS, CBE
Friday, 16 June 2006
2/F Olympic House, So Kong Po, Causeway Bay
Drinks Reception 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm We are delighted to welcome Professor Christopher Leaver FRS, CBE, Head of the Department of Botany at Oxford and a world leading expert on genetically modified foods to address the Royal Geographical Society Hong Kong. Professor Leaver has a strong interest in the public understanding of science and has been actively involved in the current debate on genetically modified crops in the UK and Europe. This has led frequently to clashes with opposing groups and he has become one of the world's most controversial scientists. However, he argues that there is no option but to use plant biotechnology by way of genetically modified foods, together with conventional plant breeding, to provide solutions to some of the challenges the world faces going forward. As with many new technologies, people are keen to embrace many of the benefits, but are concerned about the potential risks. The manner of introduction of genetically modified foods has led to widespread loss of community confidence, which has been exploited by nonrepresentative groups and activists for their own political ends. However, Professor Leaver explains the facts about GM foods and argues that if we are to satisfy the environmental concerns associated with modern high input agriculture and still feed the increasing world population in a sustainable manner we must assume responsibility for fully evaluating and using this technology for future generations. In the talk, Professor Leaver addresses these topical and controversial issues. Professor Leaver argues that the challenge facing the world for the next 50 years is to improve the food security for the 6 billion population and feed an additional 3 billion people. To meet this demand the earth must doubletotriple the sustainable production of food on, essentially, the same area of land in the face of decreasing water supplies and with respect to the environment, which means decreasing the use of chemical fertilisers, weed killers and pesticides. In addition the world petroleum supplies, upon which we all depend, are likely to peak within the next 20 years and then decline, leaving the sun as the only alternative sustainable source of energy, and green plants as the only organisms capable of harvesting that energy, by photosynthesis. During the last 20 years or so there has been a revolution in plant science and the skills of the plant breeder have been supplemented by what is termed plant biotechnology. In this lecture, Professor Leaver is going to outline the basis of these new technologies genetic modification (GM) and give examples of how they are and must be applied in world agriculture at the moment. In 2005, 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries planted GM crops covering 220 million acres (90 million hectares). Professor Leaver is also going to discuss potential future applications in all areas of crop improvement including increasing yield and quality of the harvested product for food and nonfood use and engineering and increasing resistance to pests and weeds which currently reduce yields dramatically despite the extensive use of agrochemical sprays. Professor Leaver also believes that our improved understanding of the complex metabolic pathways operating in plants also means that we should be able to use transgenic plants as biorefineries to produce biofuels, high value pharmaceuticals, vitamins, carbohydrates, and lipidbased polymers for nonfood use and as raw materials for the chemical industry. A realisation of this potential could go some considerable way to reducing our dependence upon fossil fuels and would have the added advantage of depending upon a renewable energy source the sun and involve the use of more environmentally benign materials which result in the production of less toxic waste. Professor Christopher Leaver FRS, CBE, BSc, ARCS, MA, PhD, DIC, FRSE is the Sibthorpian Professor of Plant Science at Oxford University and has been head of the Department of Botany since 1991. He is also a Fellow of St John's College, Oxford. He was educated at Imperial College, London, where he also gained his doctorate in Plant Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He was then a Fulbright Scholar at Purdue University, USA, and a Lecturer, Reader then Professor at the University of Edinburgh. He is a Visiting Professor at numerous other universities. He is the holder of many awards including that of the Phytochemical Society of Europe and the Humboldt Prize. His research interests include the molecular, biochemical and cellular basis of plant development and the regulation of mitochondrial biogenesis. He is the President or a member of more than 20 institutes, museums or government organisations in some 10 countries. Professor Leaver was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1986 has been awarded the CBE for services to plant sciences. Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is HK$50 for Members, $100 for Members' Guests and HK$150 for others.