View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

The importance of failure

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The results are in: the aphid-repelling wheat which caused the Rothamsted protests of 2012 doesn’t actually repel aphids in the field. Despite success in the lab, the field trial showed no reduction in aphid numbers.

An interesting analysis in Nature points out that history is written by the winner. In science, however, there are many fails behind every success. Failure is a huge part of science, and indeed of life. If you’re not failing, and learning from those failures, you’re probably not aiming for a big success.

In my day job I’ve recently put together some videos of science Nobel Laureates talking about failure. They’re well worth a listen.

The next step for the aphid wheat is every scientist’s favourite: more experiments. The aphid wheat idea certainly isn’t being thrown out – one suggestion is the need for a closer imitation of the aphid alarm pheromone being used as the repellent.

If the protestors had managed to prevent the trial from happening, they would have deprived us of evidence that this crop, at least as it is currently, won’t deliver the benefits we’d hoped. This evidence will prove much more valuable than speculation in the continued debate.

The only regret I have in this story is that such a huge amount of money had to be wasted on security when it could have been spent on research.

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Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website: http://rebeccanesbit.com/

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