Symposium to tackle questions of genetic engineering and biodiversity

07/16/04

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL-- How might genetically engineered organisms (GEOs) help restore threatened habitats? What are the ecological risks associated with the introduction of GEOs for conservation purposes? And how might the role of conservation biologists be changing in the new era of "genetic resource planning?"

These and other questions will be addressed during a combined symposium and workshop, "Biotechnology and Biodiversity: Understanding the Potential Conservation Risks and Benefits of Genetic Engineering," to be held July 31 and Aug. 1 at Columbia University in New York. It is part of the 18th annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB), being held at Columbia July 30-Aug. 2.

The symposium and workshop were organized by University of Minnesota conservation biology graduate students Kelly Paulson and Erika Rivers, along with Emily Pullins of the university's Institute for Social, Economic and Ecological Sustainability (ISEES). The symposium's 12 speakers include U of M researchers David Andow (entomology), Anne Kapuscinski (fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology and ISEES director) and Karen Oberhauser (fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology).

The panel will cover such topics as the use of invasion biology theory to inform risk assessments, engineering mosquitoes to combat malaria, and utilizing an international biosafety protocol to mitigate GEO risks to biodiversity. Oberhauser, an expert on monarch butterflies, will present an overview of research and decision-making concerning the effects of Bt corn on monarch larvae.

"The good news is that in the end, the strain of Bt corn that took over the market for Bt corn is not as harmful to monarchs as were the original strains," Oberhauser said. "The bad news is that the initial decisions were made by the Environmental Protection Agency without the necessary scientific information."

The symposium will be held from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. EDT Saturday, July 31, in the Roone Arledge Cinema, Alfred Lerner Hall, 115th Street and Broadway. The workshop will focus on the SCB's role in addressing conservation issues related to genetic engineering. It will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 1, on the fourth floor of Lerner Hall.

"Our goal is to convince conservation biologists that genetic engineering is bound to impact their efforts to conserve biodiversity and to educate them about those issues," said Paulson. "This symposium aims to spark a conversation about the potential risks and benefits of genetic engineering within the Society for Conservation Biology."

The biotechnology and biodiversity symposium, as well as the other symposia, discussions and workshops, are part of the theme for this year's SCB meeting, "Conservation in an Urbanizing World." The symposium and workshop are funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. A complete schedule for the meeting is at cerc.columbia.edu/scb2004/schedule.html. Agendas for the symposia are at cerc.columbia.edu/scb2004/symposia.html.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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