By Nhial Tiitmamer
Have you ever been curious about a potential role of pro-vitamin “A” rice, the health hazard that pesticides pose in the potato production industry, and about what motivates farmers in East Central Alberta to practice organic farming?
At the University of Alberta, Augustana Campus, learning is not only a great part of the institution’s professed mission of educating the whole person but there is also an “academic culture of research, creativity, and public engagement in which students are invited to participate.” This mission spoke volumes to the audience when three Augustana students, Kathryn Stone, Patricia Leighton and Sarah Skinner, shared their fascinating research findings at a student conference on January 30, 2009.
Kathryn Stone, a biology student who did her research on the potential role of pro-vitamin “A” rice, said scientists have succeeded in solving the problem of Vitamin A deficiency in rice “by introducing foreign genes into rice” to produce β -carotene in rice. β -carotene is turned into vitamin A in human body. Rice naturally lacks vitamin A. For most of the world’s population who heavily depend on rice for food, lack of vitamin A has been a big problem in terms of causing blindness and immune deficiency, sometimes leading to death.
Patricia Leighton, also a biology student, did her research on the use of NewLeaf Plus® genetically modified Russet Burbank potatoes. Pesticides have been used to control the two major potato pests named Colorado potato beetle and potato leaf roll virus (PLRV). The two pests have been blamed for poor potato yields. Use of pesticides to control them has been posing a serious danger to the environment. Scientists, according to Patricia Leighton, now use the New Leaf Plus® genetically modified Russet Burbank potatoes to produce varieties of potatoes, which are resistant to pests, resulting in the limited use of pesticides while maintaining high potato yields.
Environment major Sarah Skinner was curious to know what motivates farmers in East Central Alberta to practice organic farming. Her curiosity led her to interview six organic farmers, categorizing their potential motivation factors into health, environment, social, economic and political motivations. Skinner found that organic farmers consider environmental sustainability as the major motivation behind their interests in organic farming. She asked the farmers if good prices for organic products were a factor behind their interests, but they said they would still practice organic farming even if the prices were the same. Organic farming does not require fertilizers, which contribute to environmental degradation.
Skinner said talking directly to the people who do the farming, gave her a valuable insight into the topic of organic farming, unlike sitting in the library, going through books.
Kathryn Stone, Patricia Leighton and Sarah Skinner tied their research topics to this year annual theme of food.
For more information, visit student conference web page at http://www.augustana.ualberta.ca/news/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/studentconference.html