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Social issues and GM crops

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The genetic manipulation of plants and animals and their use in agriculture is one of the most controversial scientific developments of recent times. This free course, Social issues and GM crops, takes a look at the science behind the headlines and the complex interactions between scientific and social factors. By the end of the course it's hoped that you will have a clearer idea not only of what is possible with GM but what may be considered desirable.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • understand some of the social issues surrounding the development of GM crops
  • better understand some of the social issues surrounding the development of GM crops, especially those that are ethical in nature
  • better appreciate the disputed nature of the science that underpins GM crop development and how these relate to modern methods of assessing the safety of GM foods
  • explain how the public consultation exercise relating to the possible commercialisation of GM crops was conducted in the UK and the merits and drawbacks of that approach.

By: The Open University

  • Duration 10 hours
  • Updated Wednesday 16th March 2016
  • Intermediate level
  • Posted under Environmental Science
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Social issues and GM crops


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In recent years, scientists have made huge gains in their understanding of how genes can be altered and transferred from one organism to another - but that knowledge has been acquired amidst controversy and concern. The deep ethical concerns that have resulted from the emergence of genetic manipulation are explored in this course. We begin with an examination of the basic structure and function of genes. A number of pioneering examples and techniques are explored, helping to explain why our present-day view of genetic manipulation can combine feelings of optimism and unease. Examples are drawn from both plants (notably GM crops) and animals (including Dolly the sheep), with a special emphasis on the implications of promising medical techniques such as gene therapy. Our hope is that by exploring the science 'behind the headlines', and its interactions with the equally complex social factors, we will acquire a clearer idea of both what is possible and what may be desirable.

Note: This course follows on from Gene manipulation in plants [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , and it is recommended that you study that course before going on to read this one.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course S250 Science in context.

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