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This is kinda a big deal, everyone. I got paid to write at From Quarks to Quasars, a popular science news site. My first post went up yesterday.

Scientists at Rothamstead Research, an agricultural research group in the UK, have published the results of their years-long study on genetic modification of wheat plants, despite setbacks from anti-GMO protesters.

The researchers were attempting to introduce genes into the wheat genome that would repel aphids, one of the insects that plague wheat crops. They borrowed DNA from other plant species, such as peppermint, that naturally produce a chemical signal that mimics pheromones used to signal danger (specifically, aphid pheromones). Their hope was that, by creating wheat that produced these pheromones, the wheat would repel the aphids without the use of chemical insecticides.

The scientists were hoping that the GM wheat would repel the aphids, but it didn’t work. Now, there are already anti-GMO sites calling the experiment a failure and a waste of taxpayer money. It is this attitude I want to address here.

It is a massive mistake to treat any scientific experiment that returns an unexpected result as a failure. Science, at its heart, is about trial and error. This experiment was a trial, and it ended in an error. But that doesn’t mean that the science is useless, or that we learned nothing from it.

Science is built on a foundation of failing, learning, and trying again. Thomas Edison once said, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” On our quest to go to the moon, three people died, right at the beginning of the Apollo Program. But if we had stopped then, where would we be now?

Just because the GM wheat trial didn’t produce the results the researchers were expecting doesn’t mean the trial itself was a waste of time or money. We learned things about wheat, aphids, and genetic modification that we didn’t know before, and that information will help the researchers to be more successful next time. Maybe we won’t get the results we want on the next trial, or the one after that, but if we keep trying different approaches eventually we’ll find one that will work. And any future success will be gained by persevering in the face of failure, not by giving up the first time something goes wrong.

To those naysayers who want us to quit now, you don’t have the right mindset. You look at this trial and see failure, while scientists look at it and see future success. That attitude of relentless optimism in the face of hardship got us to the moon, and it’ll get us aphid-resistant wheat, too. It’s just a matter of time.

You can read the rest of my post here.

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