Jennifer Thomson (PhD Rhodes) is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town. She held a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard, was Associate Professor in Genetics at the University of the Witwatersrand, visiting scientist at MIT, and Director of the Laboratory for Molecular and Cell Biology for the CSIR, before becoming Head of the Department of Microbiology at UCT in 1988. She won the L’Oreal/UNESCO prize for Women in Science for Africa in 2004 and has an Honorary Doctorate from the Sorbonne University. Her research field is the development of genetically modified maize resistant to the African endemic maize streak virus and tolerant to drought. She has published three books on Genetically Modified Organisms: Genes for Africa, Seeds for the Future, and Food for Africa, and is a frequent speaker at international meetings, including the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. She is a member of the board (previously Chair) of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), based in Nairobi and Vice-Chair of ISAAA (International Service for the Acquisition of AgriBiotech Applications). She serves on the National Advisory Council on Innovation of the South African Minister of Science and Technology. She is the President of the Organisation for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) and chairs the South African chapter. She is a newly elected fellow of TWAS.
Abstract: The year 2015 marked the 20th year of the commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) crops. During the period from 1996 to 2014, the global hectarage of these crops increased 100-fold, making it the fastest adopted crop technology in recent times. The overall economic gains from these crops have been estimated to be USD133.4 billion over the period from 1996 to 2013, and have been divided roughly 50% each to farmers in developed and developing countries. The environmental benefits include contributing to the practice of minimal till agriculture and a decrease in the use of pesticides. But what are the downsides of this technology? I will look at some of the problems related to weeds becoming resistant to glyphosate (the main ingredient that is used on herbicide tolerant crops), how these can be overcome and whether glyphosate can cause cancer. I will also discuss the problem of insects becoming resistant to the toxins that are used in insect resistant crops and how these are being addressed. I will then consider GM crops that are in the pipeline of benefit to developing countries and whether any of these are likely to be commercialised in the foreseeable future.
The talk will be livestreamed from the ICTP website (ictp.it/livestream). Light refreshments will be served after the event.