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Plant Pathology

Department of Plant Pathology


Contemporary Issues: Pesticides, Genetic Engineering, and the Environment

Contemporary, cultural, and social issues related to pesticide use, genetic engineering and sustainable plant management. Au, Sp Sems. Prereq: Jr or Sr standing. Not open to students with credit for 597. GE cross-disciplinary seminar course.

This course is an ONLINE course and offered online Autumn, Spring and Summer

In this class, we cover scientific topics centered aground agriculture and the environment, but we also delve into issues that influence public opinion and policy.  We also consider diverse viewpoints and how to evaluate information.  There are opportunities to explore your own areas of interest.  We’ll also incorporate updates on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Class format/grading

  • Weekly modules with videos/some articles
  • A position paper – topic of your choice (broadly related to class topics – can include COVID-19 topics)
  • A short video or narrated Powerpoint presentation about a topic of your choice
  • Midterm 1 and Final (Midterm 2); online essay exams that ask you to synthesize class topics

Class Topics

  • Food security is woven through many class topics
  • Critical thinking – evaluating sources – what should you believe?  We’ll also cover how to read a scientific paper and examine a couple of the more controversial papers related to class topics.
  • COVID-19 updates will be incorporated, including parallels with class topics (spread and management of pathogens)
  • Pests and Diseases – An overview/background on the biology of pathogens, especially as it relates to managing plant diseases and other pests. Biological, social and public implications
  • Genetic Engineering, including CRISPR Gene Editing – some scientific background, applications, public viewpoints, questions and controversies, issues such as food labeling
  • Invasive Species – what should we do when a species is “out of control?”  How can we communicate and prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species?
  • Pesticides and Toxins– a look at historical and current topics that have shaped public perception and use of pesticides; public health considerations (e.g. spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria), agricultural applications.
  • The book for the class is Our Daily Bread: The Essential Norman Borlaug.  An easy read (available as an ebook on Amazon for $2.99) about the life of Norman Borlaug, which incidentally starts with his childhood memories of the 1918 flu pandemic, and then a chronicle of his humble, often arduous life and a winding educational and career path that took him to Mexico and around the world – eventually a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in food security.  You’ll see, from Borlaug’s perspective – how determination and attitude were keys to success.
Course Level: 
Semesters Offered: 
Summer 2023
Autumn 2023
Spring 2024
Current Instructors: 
Instruction Modes: 
In Person
Distance Learning
Course Subject: