Genetically Engineered Crops and the Microbiome


The committee held a webinar on Monday, April 6, 2015, to gather information on the microbiome.
Click here to view the full webinar.

What is the microbiome?

Microbiomes are communities of microbes—bacteria, viruses, and fungi—that live in, on, and around us.

Why did the committee hear about the microbiome?

From the moment we were born, microbes began living in and on our bodies. Beneficial microbes contribute to human health by defending against pathogens, helping digest food, and boosting our immune systems. Plants also have microbiomes; distinct microbial communities live on leaves, within flowers, and on roots and the soil around them. Farmers and scientists alike think microbes play many roles in crop growth and development. Some scientists are now interested in investigating those roles and determining if GE traits or treatment with herbicides could influence the plant, soil, or human microbiome.

The following slideshow provides a brief introduction to the topic.

Watch the Microbiome Webinar and hear what the speaker presented to the committee!

Jonathan Eisen, University of California, Davis, provided an introduction to the microbiome, discussed lateral gene transfer from microbes to other organisms, and examined whether there is evidence that the herbicide glyphosate affects the human microbiome. View bio

Jonathan Eisen is an evolutionary biologist and a professor at the University of California-Davis. His research focuses on mechanisms underlying the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). His work involves the use of high throughput DNA sequencing methods to characterize microbes and then the use and development of computational methods for analysis. The computational work has focused on integrating evolutionary analysis with genome analysis – so called “phylogenomics.” He previously applied the phylogenomic approach to cultured organisms, such as those from extreme environments and those with key properties as they relate to evolution or global climate cycles. He currently uses sequencing and phylogenomic methods to study microbes directly in their natural habitats (that is, without culturing). In particularly, he focuses on how communities of microbes interact with each other and with plant and animal hosts to create new functions. Prior to his position at UC-Davis, Dr. Eisen was on the faculty of The Institute for Genomic Research. He is a fellow of the American Society of Microbiology and the academic editor in chief for PLoS Biology. Dr. Eisen received his A.B. in biology from Harvard College and his Ph.D. in biological sciences from Stanford University, where he studied the evolution of DNA repair processes.

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