GM take-away: How to Genetically Modify a Tomato and Other Things We Eat

20th Oct 2011

A take-away photographic exhibition is aiming to demystify the process of genetic modification, to try to make the debate about this controversial subject more informed.

The exhibition has been put together by Murray Ballard, a Brighton-based photographer, who has always had a keen interest in the environment and agriculture.

The cultivation of GM crops is a subject that has divided opinion. The technology can reduce the need for protective spraying with pesticides and could improve yields, reducing the impact agriculture has on the environment. Opponents claim the technology could damage the environment or have adverse effects on health.

Within the media and on the internet, claims that GM will help solve world hunger vie with claims that it will devastate the planet, but for Murray, there was a lack of any accessible information on what genetic modification was. A recent survey showed that just 7% of people could accurately define what GM foods were. Over half of consumers neither support nor reject GM foods, and are yet to form an opinion.

With this in mind, Murray approached the John Innes Centre, one of Europe’s leading independent centres for plant research and genetics. The centre, and the adjacent Sainsbury Laboratory on the Norwich Research Park, allowed Murray unlimited access to their laboratories to photograph the scientific processes involved in genetically modifying plants and to interview the researchers involved.

For the scientists, this is part of an on-going effort to engage with anyone interested in GM – via public events, debate, the media and YouTube.

“When I started this project I was always thinking about who it was aimed at, and then I realised it was for me, and for people like me, who wanted to go in to these research centres and find out more,” said Murray.

During the course of his research, Murray came across a pop-up art exhibition in newspaper format. He realised that something similar would be ideal for this project. “I wanted to produce something that could be picked up and read in depth on the bus or at home,” said Murray.

He worked with designer Elliot Hammer of Birch Studio Ltd in London, to produce the exhibition so that the full display can be taken away and read as a broadsheet newspaper.

“How to genetically modify a tomato, and other things we eat” details the processes scientists at the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory are using to genetically modify plants. Three studies were followed that are producing drought-tolerant barley, blight-resistant versions of the most popular potato varieties, and healthier tomatoes. Murray recorded the different stages, showing how genes are introduced, how the plants containing this gene are checked, and then how the performance of this gene is tested.


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