Is tinkering with plant and human genes making better plants and better beings? This was the topic Professor Emeritus David Smyth explored at the Lower North U3A annual general meeting at Clare.
U3A Chair Claire Eglinton welcomed Prof. Smyth and guest Geoff Brock MLA to the meeting, held on November 2.
Claire reported 31 U3A courses were offered this year. These range across languages, history, art, law, book group, films, quilting, current affairs, meditation, bridge and computing.
Prof. Smyth, now retired and living in Riverton, has studied genetics for more than 50 years and lectured at Monash University from 1974 to 2010.
U3A members questioned the eminent scientist about genetically modified crops (banned in South Australia). He described how adding or deleting genes had created profitable blue carnations; made crops resistant to insects, diseases and herbicides and added vitamin A to rice and omega 3 oils to canola. Climate change had brought new imperatives with some cereals under trial for drought resistance.
“Many foods are labelled ‘GM-free’ – this is a sales point for many people but to me there is a cost factor in those products,” he said.
“I would be happy to eat anything genetically modified, any day, with no danger of toxicity or detrimental effect to my health.”
He said this year geneticists had succeeded in correcting muscular dystrophy in a mouse and this offered hope for humans: more than 20,000 Australians have neuromuscular diseases.
Gene therapy was being used to fix a mutation that causes fragile skin, and to correct cystic fibrosis in newborns increasingly early, from 15-20 weeks of foetal development to being able to detect signs in the mother’s blood itself, Prof. Smyth said.
The speech prompted many questions and the conversations continued over an excellent afternoon tea.
Winner of the photography competition this year was Ann Foster from the Art group with Beth Smith (French) runner-up.
Justin Brady from Mintaro retired from the committee this year after over 10 years as publicity officer and other duties. Justin was thanked for his valuable service and presented with a gift bag that had a reassuring clink.
U3A Lower North has more than over 200 members and anyone over 50 and no longer in full employment is welcome to join. Their motto is “Staying active: mentally, physically and socially”.
To join U3A (u3alowernorth.com), contact Course Co-ordinator Quentin Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on 0447 601 142.