GM Foods – Cultivating Fear (Panorama)

Genetic modification of aubergine in Bangladesh has dramatically reduced the need to use pesticides

Genetic modification of aubergine in Bangladesh has dramatically reduced the need to use pesticides

Broadcaster: BBC 1

Year: 2015

Genre: Documentary

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/299847

Review by Prof John Bryant (University of Exeter)

Fierce opposition to the growth of GM crops, especially in the EU (including the UK),  goes back to the late 1990s, shortly after the first successful commercialism of crops bred by these techniques. One of the most unfortunate casualties of this opposition is Golden Rice™, bred by GM techniques to provide extra vitamin-A. Its use in SE Asia would save the eyesight of tens of thousands of children and the lives of several thousand each year. However, its uptake into agriculture has been opposed by anti-GM activists at every step such that in 2015, 16 years after this development was announced to the world, the variety is still not available to Asian farmers. Nevertheless, GM-bred crops are now grown in 28 countries (the programme says 27, which was the total in 2013) on a total area of 182 million hectares and, as pointed out in the programme, the countries in which these crops are grown have not suffered environmental disasters nor have there been any detrimental effects on human or animal health.

This brief background leads us to the theme of the programme which asks whether two newer GM-bred crops may be ‘game-changers’ in respect of public attitudes. The first is insect-resistant aubergines which are now being grown in Bangladesh (where the local name for aubergine is brinjal). These plants carry the Bt-toxin gene, already widely used across the world in insect-resistant maize and cotton. Farmers growing Bt-brinjal are enthusiastic about it: the development reduces their costs, reduces crop losses and above all reduces the use of insecticides which, because of poor safety measures, cause harm to farmers’ health. Continue reading

Rothamsted Grain Store (Countryfile)

Rothamsted has grain samples going back more than 100 years

Rothamsted has grain samples going back more than 100 years

Broadcaster: BBC 1

Year: 2015

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/294506

A 90 second clip from the BBC’s Countryfile series in which presenter Tom Heap visits the Rothamsted Research Institute and sees how the “heritage varieties” in their grain archive are being used to reintroduce desirable traits into wheat. Includes footage of a camera drone to examine the health of plants in a field trial.

Genetic diversity in potatoes (Earthrise)

The International Potato Centre collect and store tubers and other specimens in an earthquake-proof archive

The International Potato Centre collect and store tubers and other specimens in an earthquake-proof archive

Broadcaster: Al Jazeera

Year: 2015

Genre: Factual

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/290901

Since potatoes were first taken to Europe from Peru by the Spanish, they have become a staple food for large parts of the world. However agricultural practices in the recent past have tended to make crops rather inbred. This 8:37 clip from the Earthrise series shows the combination of modern science and old knowledge to reinvigorate the genetic diversity of potatoes.

Peru is home to the International Potato Centre (CIP). Scientists collaborate with indigenous farmers (the “Potato Guardians”) high in the Andes who provide tubers from wild variants. In return the centre provides them with new genetic varieties to field test; a process they term “repatriation”.

The centre stores dried tubers and potato berries collected by the farmers. In so doing they hope to be prepared for any future environmental difficulties, for example an anticipated shortage of water. Over 7000 samples with desirable traits are archived to preserve the diversity that may prove essential for future generations.

This clip would be of interest to students on botany or agricuture courses. There are sections with subtitles and no audio translation so this might limit potential uses.

The Private Life of Plants

Britain's most famous TV naturalist turns his attention to plants

Britain’s most famous TV naturalist turns his attention to plants

Broadcaster: BBC2

Year: 2013 & 2014 (originally shown 1995)

Genre: Documentary

The classic six-part series featuring David Attenborough – no notes yet, please feel free to offer recommendations for teaching using these programmes.

Episodes (50 mins each)

  1. Travelling http://bobnational.net/record/253535
  2. Growing http://bobnational.net/record/253536
  3. Flowering http://bobnational.net/record/289579
  4. The Social Struggle http://bobnational.net/record/289580
  5. Living Together http://bobnational.net/record/289581
  6. Surviving http://bobnational.net/record/289582