by Ciara Beausang (Environmental Plant Biotechnology 4)
The AMIGA project, “Assessing and Monitoring the Impacts of Genetically modified plants (GMPs) on Agro-ecosystems”, is an EU project which is ongoing in a number of European countries, including Ireland. This project aims to provide information about the impact of the cultivation of GM crops in Europe. I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend the recent “AMIGA Summer School” that took place in Carlow from the 2nd to the 5th of September.
The theme of the summer school was Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) of GM crops. This was a really exciting topic for me, as I am currently in my final year studying Environmental Plant Biotechnology in the School of BEES, UCC. GM crops have been a bone of contention for some time in Europe. Currently just one GM crop is cultivated in the EU: Maize Mon 810, which is resistant against the European corn borer. In June of this year, the European Council reached political agreement which will give Member States the option to restrict or ban GMO cultivation in their territory. However the authorisation for GM crops has not changed; risk assessment is still carried out by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The summer school took place in the wonderful setting of Teagasc Crop Research Centre in Carlow and was organised by Dr. Ewen Mullins, a senior research officer at Teagasc. Attendees came from all over the world; Argentina, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Sweden, Romania to name but a few, and had a wide variety of backgrounds; from Masters to PhD students and professionals working in research institutes, universities, state agencies and Biotech companies.
Over the 4 days we had fantastic lectures from experts in the AMIGA project, including Dr. Salvatore Arpaia, the project co-ordinator. The information we gained on statistics, post environmental market monitoring, and communicating the results of GM crop ERA’s was put to good use as we were divided into groups, assigned a specific GM crop, and were tasked with preparing the basis for an ERA . In our case, the crop was Fusarium resistant wheat. We certainly put the speakers’ knowledge to use, asking them as many questions as we could about our crops! We also had the chance to learn in the field with the Blight resistant potato trial that is currently taking place at the research centre in Carlow for the AMIGA project.
On our final day a representative from each group gave a presentation to highlight our main findings over the 4 days. I had the chance to speak for my group, a daunting task as I was the youngest participant, and the only undergraduate in a room full of experts! But I am glad I had the opportunity. If there is one thing I can take from the summer school, it is that the communication of scientific results is as important as the results themselves, particularly in the case of GM crops.