Human beings have used selective breeding techniques on plants and animals for thousands of years.  Genetic engineering (GE, also known as GM or genetic modification), however, is a much more recent phenomenon, and has stirred considerable controversy over its use in the food supply.  

Advocates argue that GE can boost food production for the world’s growing population, and improve the qualities of food, like hardiness, flavor, nutrition, appearance.  Opponents charge that, among other things, GE plays with nature, is unsafe, and threatens the diversity of the world’s food supply as well as the livelihood of farmers worldwide who cannot afford to pay for GE crops.  

In light of this controversy, Learning Life offers the following five facts about GE’s origins, forms, and use in the food supply.  


1) 1973

The year the first genetically modified organism (GMO) was created.  That GMO was a microbe.  The next year, scientists produced the first GE animals: mice.  Source


2) 1994

The year the first genetically modified organism (GMO) — a microbe used to make many cheeses — was introduced into the food supply.  Source


3) 17 million farmers, 28 countries

The number of farmers and countries producing GE crops as of 2012. The 170 million hectares of land in use to produce these crops is more than 12 percent of the world’s arable land.  Source


4) 88%

The percentage of corn planted in 2012 in the United States that was genetically engineered in some way, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That same year, 94% of cotton and 93% of soybeans were genetically engineered in the USA. Source 


5) Zero

The number of GM animals approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) as meat for food. Currently, GM animals are used for research and medical purposes as well as to produce milk or other products. FDA guidelines state that “developers of GE animals of any species traditionally consumed as food must notify the agency that they are developing such animals, and cannot introduce them into the food supply without prior investigation from FDA.”  Source



Live, or Do Business in the Washington D.C. Area?

As I noted in the blog post, “Toward a Local Learning Infrastructure,” last month, Learning Life is pleased to announce two local initiatives launching in the coming weeks: a Weekly Learn, and a Napkin Education Initiative.  This post offers more details about these two new projects.

Washington D.C.Learning Life’s mission is to inform and empower more people by spreading knowledge on everyday surfaces, like napkins, placemats and posters as well as phones, tables and computers.  In pursuit of this mission and developing a local learning infrastructure, we are launching this September a free “Weekly Learn” where Learning Life is based in the Washington D.C. metro area.  Once a week, subscribers will receive an email containing a brief, interesting fact or set of facts about the history, economy, politics, people and/or organizations that shape and define the D.C. metro area.  It’s a new, free and easy way for D.C. area residents to learn more about their metro community.

The second developing project, the Napkin Education Initiative (NEI), will start spreading informative napkins in metro D.C. eateries in the coming months.  The NEI builds on the pilot public education project Learning Life conducted last December with D.C.’s Newseum, a private museum devoted to learning about news and journalism.  For last December’s project, Learning Life volunteers conducted street theater and distributed 10,000 interactive napkins (see the adjoining napkin graphic) in restaurants in several commercial centers of Washington D.C.  The napkins invited readers to learn about President John F. Kennedy, in light of the 50th anniversary of his assassination in November 2013, by taking a JFK quiz at Learning Life, after which quiz takers could get a discount to the Newseum’s JFK exhibits.  You can learn more about this JFK project by watching the short video we produced about the project and Learning Life’s approach.

Following on Learning Life’s JFK project, the NEI will offer selected nonprofits in metro D.C. the opportunity to promote their volunteer opportunities and low-cost or free services free on paper beverage napkins to be distributed in D.C. area restaurants, bars, cafes and other eateries.  The NEI will be run through our soon-to-be-formed partner organization, Signia Surfaces LLC.  Signia Surfaces will design, print and distribute the napkins on a monthly basis.  Each napkin will feature the nonprofit information on one side, and advertising on the other.  The advertising will provide companies, nonprofits and governments a new and innovative way to get their message out – on napkins in eateries – while simultaneously helping to promote local nonprofits and inform community residents.

If you live or do business in the D.C. metro area, you can sign up for our free Metro D.C. Weekly Learn, and find out more about the NEI here.  Interested napkin advertisers and metro D.C. nonprofits seeking free promotion are encouraged to contact us at email@learninglife.info.  Stay tuned for more information about these projects in our next monthly newsletter!    

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.
Founder, Learning Life

Intern Spotlight: Samantha Issa

Special thanks to Learning Life intern, Ehvyn McDaniels, for helping to draft Samantha’s profile.

Explore.  Connect.  Learn.  These three verbs could describe what Learning Life is about, but they also define the passion of our intern, Samantha Issa.

Samantha IssaBorn in New Jersey of an American mother and a Lebanese father, you might say that Samantha was born to explore, connect and learn.  “My desire to travel, explore, and learn informs most of my decisions. Traveling has fueled a passion for connecting with the people around me, and I have come to value human relationships over almost anything else.”  These passions to explore, connect and learn help explain why Samantha has studied Spanish in Spain; taught children reading, writing and math; tutors English to immigrants in Washington D.C.; and serves as an admissions assistant fielding inquiries and applications from the diverse students applying to George Washington University.

As a senior at GWU, Samantha majors in Organizational Sciences and aims to work for an enterprise with a social conscience.  “I would love to work for a social enterprise or other socially impactful business where I could use my communication skills and travel experience to make a difference.”  To this end, she has volunteered with Serengetee, a fast-growing clothing company founded by college students that uses a portion of its proceeds to support local designers and causes around the world, with Lush, a cosmetics company that makes uses natural, ethically-sourced ingredients, and most recently with Learning Life.

This summer, Samantha interned with Learning Life from her home in New Jersey.  Employing her developing research, design and social media skills, Samantha diligently carried out a variety of projects for Learning Life.  She started by proposing ways for Learning Life to grow its audience via social media, then helped expand our audience on Facebook, and spurred us to create a Facebook group for volunteers, interns and supporters.  Samantha also compiled a list of one hundred valuable informational resources online for our social media page readers; produced an initial list of placemat and poster makers that Learning Life might partner with; gathered facts about metro Washington D.C. for Learning Life’s (former) “Weekly Learn” launched in September; updated news media advertising rates in metro D.C. to compare with Learning Life pricing for our upcoming napkin education initiative; created a number of promotional posters and educational infographics (click on the example of her work to the right); and drafted a guide to search engine optimization (SEO) to improve Learning Life’s online search rankings.  Importantly, this last project helped move Learning Life to first and second place in Google searches of the name “Learning Life.”

When asked why she decided to volunteer with Learning Life, Samantha responded, “I feel invested in the cause. The amount of information available to us is valuable but intimidating, and Learning Life can help make that information less unapproachable and more learnable.”  Learning Life is happy and thankful for Samantha’s investment as we have benefited substantially from her careful and conscientious work this summer.

We congratulate Samantha in advance on her graduation from GWU, and wish her the best as she pursues her passions to explore the world, connect and learn.

To learn more about interning or volunteering with Learning Life, contact us at email@learninglife.info.     

Five Facts on Climate Change

The nature, pace and causes of climate change (of which global warming is a part) have been the subject of research and debate for many years, but the clear scientific consensus is now that climate change is happening, and that human activities are the cause.  Further, there are disturbing signs that climate change is happening rapidly, especially with the melting of polar ice. Learning Life offers the following five facts to help better understand the pace and severity of this global threat.

1) 97%

The percentage of climate scientists worldwide who agree that the climate warming trend is very likely due to human activities. Nearly 200 scientific organizations worldwide have come to this conclusion, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Amazon Environmental Research Institute, European Science Foundation, and the Japanese Meteorological Agency.

2) 9 out of 10 of the warmest years since the year 2000

Since climate temperature recording began in 1880, 9 of the 10 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century, including 2013.  Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the last, and the current warming is unprecedented in the last 1,300 years, as ice cores and other historical evidence show.


3) 1,141 lives and $175 billion

The number of lives lost and the total economic cost of weather-related disasters caused by climate change in the United States over just the past two years. These costs are from 25 separate climate- and weather-related disasters.  Note: While any given weather disaster may not be due to climate change, climate change may have increased the number and severity of weather disasters.

4) 6.6 feet

The maximum level scientists expect the sea level to rise by the year 2100. Sea levels have been rising for decades.  Climate scientists are 90% certain that sea levels by this time will rise a minimum of 8 inches and a maximum of 6.6 feet.  In the U.S. alone, over eight million people live on coasts at risk of flooding. The 8-inch minimum is based on past sea level rising rates. The 6.6 feet maximum is based on ocean warming and “maximum plausible” loss of polar ice sheets and glaciers.

5) 400 parts per million (ppm)

The highest concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere in the last 800,000 years, according to data gathered from studying ice core records. That record reading was taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii on May 9, 2013, and matched readings from other sites in the Northern Hemisphere that year.

Carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere contributes to global warming. Before the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-1700s, CO2 in the atmosphere is estimated to have been about 280 ppm, and had never exceeded 300 ppm in 800,000 years, until the early 20th century.  The excess 120 ppm trap up to 1.88 watts of energy per square meter of the Earth’s surface. This equates to 23 billion megawatts of energy trapped in the atmosphere every day, the same amount of energy produced in the United States in all of 2013.  As the U.S. Government’s climate.gov website notes, “we are in uncharted territory.”