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November 9th, 2009:

We’re Back

I apologize for the downtime today. This morning the server this site is hosted on apparently came under DDoS attack.* And just as my hosting provider was able to compensate, the bank of servers providing mySQL support went down (presumably from the strain inflicted by the DDoS attack, two unrelated failures in the same day from a service that’s normally pretty reliable seems unlikely).

So that’s why Jamesandthegiantcorn has been either unreachable or returning database errors all day, and I really am sorry.

In case you missed them while the site was down:

Last night there was a post on how some, but not all, corn uses chemical signals to attract nematodes when its roots are attacked by insect larva that the nematodes eat, and how that functionality can be restored in lines of corn that don’t normally have it with a signal transgene (with the presumption that introgressing the native corn gene would also work).

This morning the first in my series of profiles of genetically engineered plants that are commercially available, Canola, went up.

And orignally scheduled to go up around noon (in the middle of the outage), was an explanation of how I’m going to handle creating a resource on crops that have actually been genetically modified, since writing one long post was clearly something I was going to keep putting off indefinately.

Anyway, such attacks are just a part of life on the modern internet. Sometimes they come at random, sometimes they’re a way of shutting down sites the attacker doesn’t like. Since I share my server with a bunch of other people, we’ll probably never know why (if there even was a reason) we were attacked.

*DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. An attacker uses hundreds or even thousands of compromised computers across the world to attempt to access a site at once. The huge load swamps the host server to the point where it can’t respond to legitimate requests, and since the traffic is coming from lots of different computers with different addresses it’s hard to block it without also blocking the real people trying to access a site. And that doesn’t even take into account what happens when routers are so overwhelmed the datacenter personel can’t log into them to alter their settings. (Monty, if you’re reading this can you give an expert prespective on these attacks?)

The plan on genetically engineered crop info

I tried to tackle it a couple of times over the weekend and ended up being intimidated by the amount of info, and also discouraged at the though of few people would want to read all the way through a long treatise on the subject.

So here’s what I’m going to do instead. Every morning at ~2 AM Pacific Time, a summary of a new genetically engineered crop will be posted on the site. The first one, Canola, should have come out this morning. (Please let me know about any mistakes you spot, or cool facts I didn’t mention.) Once there’s a post for every crop that’s currently genetically engineered, I’ll write up an actual page on the subject with links to all the relevant posts. Anyone who’s interested can point out anything I’ve written that is unclear or misleading, and then a link to that page will go up at the top of the site, next to “home” and “about”, to serve as a resource for anyone who needs it.

Genetically Engineered Crops: Canola

Field of Canola in Bloom. Photo: Joe Shlabotnik, flickr (click photo to view Joe's photostream)

Field of Canola in Bloom. Photo: Joe Shlabotnik, flickr (click photo to view Joe's photostream)

Scientific name: Brassica napus

Genetically Engineered Traits: Herbicide Resistance.

Details of Genetic Engineering:

Two companies have produced canola that is resistant to different herbicides.
Monsanto sells canola (Roundup Ready canola) that is resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide monsanto sells under the brand name Roundup and lots of other companies sell under lots of other brand names since the herbicide itself recently came off patent (the resistance trait is still under patent.)
Bayer sells canola (Liberty Link canola) that resists the completely different, if similar sounding herbicide, glufosinate. Glufosinate is sold under a number of brand names (including, you guessed it, Liberty), but I wasn’t able to figure out whether or not it is still under patent.
About Canola:
Derived from the name “Canadian Oil” canola is an oilseed plant also known as rapeseed. The name change came in the 1970s when conventional breeding (this was approx. two decades before the first genetically engineered plants hit the market) created plants with healthier oil and without the bitter taste , and presumably someone to majored in advertising suggested that selling “Rape Oil” would be a good way to go bankrupt.

Two companies have produced canola that is resistant to different herbicides.

Monsanto sells canola (Roundup Ready canola) that is resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide Monsanto sells under the brand name Roundup and lots of other companies sell under lots of other brand names since the herbicide itself recently came off patent (the resistance trait is still under patent.)

Bayer sells canola (Liberty Link canola) that resists the completely different, if similar sounding herbicide, glufosinate. Glufosinate is sold under a number of brand names (including, you guessed it, Liberty), but I wasn’t able to figure out whether or not it is still under patent.

About Canola:

Derived from the name “Canadian Oil” canola is breed of the oilseed crop rapeseed. The name change came in the 1970s when conventional breeding (this was approx. two decades before the first genetically engineered plants hit the market) created plants with healthier oil and without the bitter taste people associated with rapeseed oil, and presumably someone to majored in advertising suggested that selling “Rape Oil” would be a good way to go bankrupt.

Close up of Canola Flowers. Photo: Pollobarca2, flickr (click photo to see pollobarca2's photostream)

Close up of Canola Flowers. Photo: Pollobarca2, flickr (click photo to see pollobarca2's photostream)

Rapeseed (the USDA doesn’t break out separate statistics for Canola) was the third biggest source of vegetable oils around the world in 2008-2009 at 20.5 million metric tons, coming in behind only soybeans and oil palms.

Canola is the main oil I use in my own cooking. Canola is apparently one of the healthier sources of vegetable oils, but the two things I most appreciate about it are the high smoke point (it’s harder to burn the oil itself*), and low cost. Last time I checked I was able to find a 48 oz bottle of canola oil for 2.99 which was better than local prices for peanut or corn oil. (Olive oil of course comes in much smaller containers that cost $10 or more, not at all suitable for graduate students.)

*Good for someone who is both as indifferent a cook, and as easily distracted as I am.