James and the Giant Corn Genetics: Studying the Source Code of Nature

April 29, 2008

Cornell Pictures on Flickr

Filed under: Campus Life — Tags: , , — James @ 8:15 pm

After all the time I spent taking pictures of the campuses where I interviewed, I thought it’d only be fair to put up pictures of my alma mater (can I call it that yet, or do I have to wait until I ACTUALLY graduate?) Anyway, my timing worked out well and I got to document the campus on the best spring day I can remember from the past four years. Of course it had to happen a few weeks before I left for home, and thence to grad school. I think I’ve talked to everyone who reads this already, but if we haven’t talked in the last few weeks, I finally decided to accept the offer of UC-Berkeley’s plant biology program. For a summary of my visit to Berkeley, see Arriving in Berkeley, Another Day of 1000 interviews, Second Night … In Berkeley and Wrap up in Berkeley. This weekend I’ll be flying back home to be best man at the wedding of a good friend of mine. There may or may not be pictures afterwards. But here are a couple of examples of Cornell in the springtime (for more pictures you can either click on these pictures, or the thumbnail pictures on the right hand menu to visit my flickr account):
Blooming Tree by Uris
What Spring Should Look Like
And this isn’t really a cornell specific picture, but it’s a Cobra Lilly, and that’s just cool!:
Cobra Lilly

April 16, 2008

Tomorrow’s Table

Filed under: Book Reviews,research stories — Tags: , , — James @ 2:35 pm

Believe it or not plant geneticists and the organic movement do share share common ground. It is the realization that conventional agriculture (meaning high input, in the forms of pesticides, energy intensive synthetic fertilizer, and drawing more water out of aquifers every year than is replaces by rainfall) is not going to be sustainable over the long term. I just finished reading a book that makes the case to proponents of organic agriculture that genetic modification of crop species can be a beneficial and powerful tool for developing a more sustainable, lower input system of agriculture that can still feed the six and a half billion people alive on the earth today, and the billions more than will be born in the coming decades. The book is called Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, and it’s written by a husband and wife who personally straddle the divide between the two movements. She’s a professor working with rice at UC-Davis, and he manages and teaches organic farming.

The first part of the book is really an introduction to the ideas behind organic farming and genetic modification. I think I’ve got a pretty good background and I’ll admit I skimmed quickly over chapters like “the tools of genetic engineering.” The real substance of the book is in the second half where the authors address some of the frustratingly common arguments used by those who vehemently oppose genetically engineering crops (for example: safety, pollen drift, intellectual property) and go on to talk about the benefits GM crops can and do bring to the environment, consumers, and growers.

While the authors do a good job of making the point that GM crops really are compatible with the principles of the organic movement, I obviously already agreed with the value of GM crops. What won me over about this book was the way Pamela Ronald describes the delicate dance of a plant biologist drawn into a discussion of genetic engineering with friends or family who are firmly convinced of the danger or immortality of the technology.

If you’re interested in the subject, a good short read that summarized a lot of the points in Tomorrow’s Table is an op-ed piece Pamela Ronald wrote for the Boston Globe called The New Organic. (I read the article before Tomorrow’s Table came out, and went straight from reading the article to pre-ordering the book on amazon.) Pamela Ronald also has recent started her own blog.

In closing I’d like to quote another plant scientist blogger who I’ve discovered (while searching for the link to the Boston Globe article): “I want people to know that I’m here. I am a scientist, I am reasonable, and I am a good person. . .I believe that the two types of scientists and farmers (sustainable agriculture and genetic engineers) need to communicate and work together. . .The partnership can only happen if every scientist and every person on each side of the issue works to share and understand each other.” – Anastasia at www.geneticmaize.com

April 14, 2008

News From Xinjiang

Filed under: Recreational Travel — Tags: , , — James @ 7:04 pm

Ruins in Xinjiang
Hannah just got back from spending her spring break in Xinjiang (the far west portion of China). She was originally planning on going to Tibet, but, when things deteriorated there, she was forced to change plans. Though there were some stories of unrest and riots in Xinjiang as well, she had a great trip and made it safely back to east China (the part with all the giant cities and factories). It sounds like quite the place, containing giant mountains and the second lowest place on the face on the planet. She even got to drive along the silk road! But I won’t say anymore. That way she’ll be able to tell you her stories herself. She was nice enough to let me co-opt two pictures from her week in Xinjiang to post here, the one above and one with a pair of Bactrian Camels (the two humped kind).
Hannah + Camel

April 9, 2008

Update on Electoral Strength

Filed under: Fun With Numbers — Tags: , — James @ 2:35 pm

For anyone who was interested by the map I posted a while ago comparing the electoral strength of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama vs John McCain, the site where I pulled my raw data from is now doing the same sort of comparison, with updated numbers, and only looking at states that aren’t safely Democratic or Republican, regardless of the nominees. I am satisfied in the fact that I had a map up before a site with 25,000 page views started doing the same thing.

3.5 pounds (1.5 kilos) of Citrus

Filed under: Entertainment — Tags: , , — James @ 9:01 am

Pomelo vs Orange (2 of 3)

It’s only in the past few years that I’ve begun seeing pomelos for sale in grocery stores. I remember eating the first one I’d ever seen in Matthew’s dorm room, which puts it just over 3 years ago. The Pomelo is one of the parental species, along with the orange, of the modern grapefruit, and if you’ve never had one, the best way to imagine the flavor is to imagine the distinctive flavor of grapefruit, only stronger and less sweet. Besides flavor, the other thing to take into account when dealing with pomelos is that while the overall  size of a pomelo fruit is quite impressive, the ratio of edible to inedible biomass is lower than in other commercially available citrus fruits.

Pomelo vs Orange (3 of 3)

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