Cary Blake 1, Editor

November 24, 2015

2 Min Read

I support genetically-modified foods. Scientists and federal regulatory agencies have never found a human health concern from GMO food consumption; GMO crops require fewer pesticides to grow; and third, yields are generally higher which helps feed more people.

A prime example of GMO success is the genetically engineered rainbow papaya variety now grown in Hawaii. Dr. Dennis Gonsalves, the father of the transgenic papaya, shared his story during the 2015 Western Plant Heath Association annual meeting in Maui, Hawaii in October.

He says about 95 percent of the commercial Hawaiian papaya crop is grown in the community of Puna located on the Big Island. In the late 1970s, the deadly papaya ring spot virus appeared, transmitted by the aphid, about 20 miles away in Hilo. The papaya industry was at severe risk.

Gonsalves, who received his PhD from UC Davis, teamed with public, private, and government scientists to discover a ring spot-resistant variety using genetic engineering.

In a Reader’s Digest condensed version, the team launched their research in 1978 using new scientific advances on gene cloning and tissue culture transformation. Team member and plant geneticist John Sanford created a “gene gun” where millions of genes with a resistant co-protein were placed into blank 22 caliber bullets and were shot into plant cells.

In the years to come, a potential ring spot-resistant cultivar was grown in developed and grown in greenhouses. Field trials followed. By 1995, the rainbow papaya cultivar was developed. The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency studied the variety and approved it as safe.

In 1998, six years after the virus entered Puna fruit groves, a limited supply of free genetically engineered papaya seeds were given to growers in a lottery-type system.

Today, about 85 percent of Hawaiian-grown papaya is genetically engineered. Gonsalves says the rainbow papaya tastes great and it’s the lowest-cost Hawaiian-grown fruit, at about 25 cents each.

Gonsalves says the rainbow papaya story is worth sharing with people, including those concerned about GMOs.

“The papaya story is a way for people to find common ground in the area of biotechnology,” Gonsalves said. “These technologies are powerful and can be utilized to help people, including people in third-world countries who are hungry and need assistance.”

Photo: Getty Images

About the Author(s)

Cary Blake 1

Editor, Western Farm Press

Cary Blake, associate editor with Western Farm Press, has 32 years experience as an agricultural journalist. Blake covered Midwest agriculture for 25 years on a statewide farm radio network and through television stories that blanketed the nation.
Blake traveled West in 2003. Today he reports on production agriculture in California and Arizona.
Blake is a native Mississippian, graduate of Mississippi State University, and a former Christmas tree grower.

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