Genetically Modified Organisms

The term genetically modified organism is one that is widely used and also widely misunderstood. Most people imagine a brand-new technology that creates mutant animals and giant monstrous foods like in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. In reality, it is but a sophisticated name for something humans have practiced for thousands of years. Every food item we consume is not fully natural or GMO-free because of the way we create and sustain our food source. One of the main problems is the stigma against the actual term GMO and the fact that it is so difficult to define. It has become so controversial that it has fueled social justice causes and has inspired movements, such as the Non-GMO Project.

According to the Non-GMO Project, a GMO is a “plant, animal, microorganism or other organisms whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology” (Non-GMO Project 2016). They then argue that this modification “creates combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods” (Non-GMO Project 2016). This organization specifically defines GMOs as created in a laboratory and does not acknowledge other techniques such as selective breeding. The Non-GMO Project’s mission is to raise awareness and to preserve sources of non-GMO products. They believe that in order to create a safe, healthy food supply for future generations, “The integrity of our diverse genetic inheritance is essential to human and environmental health and ecological harmony” (Non-GMO Project 2016). Although it is understandable that people want to have “natural,” safe, and healthy foods, the benefits of genetically modified organisms must also be appreciated, especially in the field of social justice.

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The Banana Xanthomonas Wilt, or BXW, is a bacterial disease that is considered to be one of the “greatest threats to banana productivity and food security in Uganda and eastern Africa” (Senapathy 2017). With the addition of a gene from pepper, a resistance to banana wilt was introduced, until the anti-GMO movement stifled its success (Senapathy 2017. Nobel Laureate Sir Richard Roberts argues that “we need to make sure that we in the developed world understand that it is an indulgence for us to be either for or against a particular food” (Senapathy 2017).

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Symptoms for Banana Xanthomonas Wilt

The terms selective breeding and artificial selection were coined by Charles Darwin. They are not specifically considered to be strictly GMOs in the modern definition but are still the ancestors to our current genetic modification. The earliest evidence of artificial plant selection “dates back to 7800 BCE in archaeological sites found in southwest Asia in wheat” (Rangel 2016). In addition, according to the United Nations, by 2050 humans will need to make 70% more food than we currently do to simply adequately feed the world’s population (Rangel). As these problems rise up and meet the negative aspects of increasing production of GMOS, In short, we must be conscious of our reasons for being against GMOS and determine whether the benefits outweigh the consequences.


Gabriel Rangel. “From Corgis to Corn: A Brief Look at the Long History of GMO Technology.” From Corgis to Corn: A Brief Look at the Long History of GMO Technology, Harvard University, 23 Oct. 2016,

“Non-GMO Project: Most Trusted Seal.” Non-GMO Project, The Non-GMO Project, 2016,

Senapathy, Kavin. “The Anti-GMO Movement Has A Social Justice Problem.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 20 Nov. 2017,

LiDAR in Rainforest Archaeology

Traditional methods of archaeology include on-ground exploration and using historical maps and records. Many of these methods have been replaced by or are now practiced in conjunction with newer technologies, such as LiDAR. LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a “remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system— generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and its surface characteristics” (NOAA 2012). The most common platforms used for LiDAR surveys are helicopters and airplanes, and the LiDAR equipment is, in basic form, a laser, scanner, and GPS receiver (NOAA 2012). The data received by the LiDAR instrument measures the time it takes for the light pulses to return to the aircraft (Renfrew 2015). This information is then translated into an aerial map of landscapes archaeological features such as man-made structures.

“Lidar equipment and detection principles.”(

This LiDAR technology has been incredibly valuable within the field of archaeology because it is able to map and record things that humans are incapable of on foot. For example, studying rainforest sites is extremely difficult due to the extreme terrain and abundant wildlife, especially the expansive rainforest canopies. Because of this limited access to these sites, some of the histories of these areas is largely unknown. This leads to many legends and even articles to be written about these “lost civilizations” that have been “discovered.”

One study by the University of Central Florida, for example, used LiDAR to recover ancient Mayan cities at Caracol in Belize. Before this technology, archaeologists were mostly unable to analyze the innovative accomplishments and ingenuity of the Maya because of the dense and difficult to navigate rainforests. One interesting question that was raised in this study is as follows:

“It often appears that sites in more easily studied areas of the world–plains, sparse forests, or areas cleared in modern times—are larger and more complex than their tropical forest counterparts. Does this impression reflect the inability of ancient humans to create large, sustainable settlements in the tropics, or is it the result of incomplete investigations, hampered by the complications of working in a rainforest?”(Chase 2010).

“In this LiDAR image of the Caracol epicenter, the jungle cover has been removed. Clearly visible—as ripples in the valleys and hillsides—are the agricultural terraces the ancient Maya constructed to feed the sprawling city.” (Courtesy Arlen Chase) (


The LiDAR system can read through the thick forest canopies, revealing the features underneath, allowing archaeologists to analyze these structures and to identify potential activity areas that might warrant further excavation. This study was able to confirm that Caracol was a “low-density agricultural city encompassing some 70 square miles” (Chase 2010). The researchers’ previous data, documented through ground field work had recorded some features, but the LiDAR assisted them in documenting the site’s “entire communication and transportation infrastructure at its height during the Late Classic Period” (Chase 2010). Other sites where LiDAR has been exponentially valuable are those at Tikal in Guatemala and Calakmul in Mexico. LiDAR, however, does have a few drawbacks. It cannot record completely perishable structures and although it can distinguish features that are less than a foot in height, it is still not completely accurate and will always require further research and groundwork. The benefits of LiDAR, however, are invaluable in excavating archaeological sites and in allowing archaeologists to reconstruct ancient civilizations.

Additional Content:

Clynes, Tom. “Laser Scans Reveal Maya ‘Megalopolis’ Below Guatemalan Jungle.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 14 Feb. 2018,

Loughran, Jack. “Lidar Used to Make 3D Model of the Amazon to Understand Drought Impact.” RSS, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, 13 June 2018,


Chase, Arlen F., et al. “Archaeology Magazine – Lasers in the Jungle – Archaeology Magazine Archive.” Who Were the Hopewell? – Archaeology Magazine Archive, Archaeological Institute of America, 2010,                   

NOAA. “What Is LIDAR.” NOAA’s National Ocean Service, Department of Commerce, 1 Oct. 2012,

Renfrew, Colin, and Paul G. Bahn. Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods, Practice. 2nd ed., Thames & Hudson, 2015.