As agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa is already low because of poor soils, agriculture is further hampered by the endemic killer Maize streak virus, drought, parasitic witch weeds, insects, herbicides and fungi.
How can science help?
UCT molecular biologist and specialist on genetically modified (GM) foods, Professor Jennifer Thomson, has some answers.
In short: by creating genetically modified maize plants that are resistant to these threats, African maize farmers could, potentially, produce to and above capacity. Transgenic foods are, however, not a miracle cure for starvation in the third world. But they are safe to eat, she assured the audience. GM foods are treated (in safety testing trials) as if they were toxic.
Thomson was delivering the Alumni Leadership Forum's Annual Distinguished Science Alumni Lecture on
A UCT fellow, winner of the L'Oreal UNESCO Prize 2004 and with an honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne University, Thomson inspired an alumni-crammed theatre with her presentation on GM Crops: An African Perspective.
Dean of Science, Professor Kathy Driver, called Thomson's work a "practical manifestation of how science changes our lives".
With the commercialisation of GM plants in the pipeline, there are talks of these plants being used to produce vaccines against viruses that penetrate the human body through the mucus membrane, like HIV.
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