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

December 28, 2009

Not Genetically Engineered: Square Watermelons

Filed under: food,Plants — Tags: , , — James @ 4:28 am

Square watermelon. Photo: laughlin, flickr (click photo to see in original context)

This is an addendum to my previous post: Not Genetically Engineered: Watermelons

At the time I thought the only awesome thing about watermelons that people calling genetic engineering was seedlessness. It turns out there are also square watermelons. Are they genetically engineered? I guess my title does kind of give away the answer.

Square watermelons aren’t the product of genetic engineering, or radiation mutagenesis, nor even conventional breeding. Instead they are a result of a technology known as “the container.”* Farmers, primarily in Japan, place a box around a fertilized watermelon flower. As the watermelon grows it fills the container, eventually filling even the corners. When the box is removed, it reveals a cube shaped watermelon.

There’s no real benefit to growing a cube shaped watermelon, yet some people will pay more for one. Interest in strangely shaped or colored foods in a natural response for many of us human beings.

Pears inside bottles, when they clearly couldn't fit through the neck. Isn't biology fun? photo: kasiaeryn, flickr (click to see the photo in its original context)

It’s the same things (fruit growing inside containers, and a fascination with strange food and drink) which results in complete pears inside bottles**. The bottle is put around the fertilized pear flower, and the pear develops inside. A great way to puzzle people who usually think in terms of buying food rather than growing it.

*<sarcasm>Clearly we’re playing with forces beyond our control here. When will we crazy scientists stop trying to play god!</sarcasm>

**If you’re interested, there’s a six minute youtube video with all the info you could ever possibly want on the proper technique for growing pears inside wine and liquor bottles. <- Be forewarned! If, like me, you don’t actually have access to a pear tree, watching this video will just leave you frustrated with your life.

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