GMOs a Hot Topic for UConn Extension Master Gardeners

Carol Auer

By Leslie Alexander

Certified UConn Extension Master Gardeners and Advanced Master Gardeners are encouraged to maintain active certification. In addition to completing required office and community outreach hours Master Gardeners in Connecticut are required to attend one Hot Topics class each year. These classes are designed to provide Master Gardeners with updated and new horticultural and environmental information. Theses classes build upon the program’s class topics and help keep Master Gardeners informed and current. This year’s first Hot Topics class was offered to Master Gardeners on March 27, 2014 at the UConn Hartford campus. One hundred and twenty Master Gardeners showed up to hear Dr. Carol Auer a professor at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture present a lecture on the controversial subject of genetically engineered crops.

Titled Genetically Engineered Crops from Farm to Fork, Dr. Auer’s presentation updated the audience on current genetic modifications and new methods for incorporation into organisms, quizzed the audience on their knowledge of foods that contain genetically modified crops and discussed the risk assessment paradigm used by the Federal Government to determine potential impacts to humans and the environment.

Dr. Auer is a research scientist in the field of genetic engineering. In 2002 she received a Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and spent a year with USDA in Washington at the Department of Agriculture working with policy makers who assess the risks and benefits of these genetic modification processes. She realized the complexities regulators face in assessing science in the application and review process for approving new genetically engineered crops. On her return to UConn Dr. Auer’s research changed focus, she is concentrating on the science behind ecological risk and benefit assessment of genetically modified plants with novel traits. At present, her interdisciplinary research program is characterizing potential ecological risks associated with the adoption of engineered grasses commonly used as turfgrass or bioenergy resources. These projects are providing new knowledge about grass gene flow, pollen aerobiology, interspecific hybridization, plant species distribution, plant communities, cultural landscape ecology, and habitat suitability modeling. Results from these projects are important for predictive ecological risk assessments, regulatory decision-making, and stakeholder education. She conducts an innovative teaching program for undergraduate and graduate students in the areas of plant physiology, molecular biology, forest ecophysiology, and research ethics. She served as Chairperson of the University’s Institutional Biosafety Committee for six years and maintains an active interest in biosecurity issues.

The Master Gardener presentation was videotaped and will be offered this spring and summer as part of the Hot Topics class in each county, allowing Master Gardeners statewide an opportunity to hear this fascinating presentation.