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

January 8, 2010

Shortest Book Review Yet!

Filed under: Book Reviews — James @ 5:34 pm

After posts yesterday and the day before.

If you’re interested in plant genetics or agriculture or biodiversity, read about Nikolai Vavilov. But I wouldn’t recommend reading “Where Our Food Comes From” (though I’m personally glad to have read it since I probably otherwise never would have heard of the guy). On second thought, you might like it. I kept getting angry with the author even as I was fascinated by the subject.

Case in point:

The corporate and academic plant breeders who are the most common recipients of seeds from those repositories typically do work that is a poor substitute for that done on-farm by vernacular plant breeders, traditional farmers.

’nuff said.


  1. Two commercially available counterpoints I can think of would be the Honeycrisp apple and Rainier cherry that were developed at universities, and far from a pale imitation, they are considered among the best of their kinds. I’m sure there are plenty of others from various research stations around the world.

    I know what it’s like to have something good scattered with bits of frustration. I get the Baker Creek heirloom seed catalog, and while I like that they’re making available such a wide variety of plants with such a visually appealing catalog (lots of big, colorful, gorgeous pictures of unique melons, tomatoes and whatnot), scattered throughout are quotes from folks like Jeffrey Smith and Prince Charles that I find pretty irksome.

    On the topic of books, could you recommend for me some good plant biology/genetics textbooks that I can read on my own? I came to the revelation a while back that I’m in the completely wrong major and want to start to correct that. Better to bite the bullet now and make a career of a hobby later than spend the rest of my life in a boring means to an end type job I figure. I can’t take anything good this semester, alas, but I figure now’s as good a time as any to start brushing up on the nitty gritty. Maybe I could have some fun in the fall and slip into a mid-level class and do the prerequisites later; it wouldn’t be the first time I did that 🙂

    Comment by Party Cactus — January 8, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

  2. It’s almost worse with the people who at least share the love of plants, but otherwise have such contradictory ideas isn’t it?

    I actually got your comment last night as I was headed out the door and since then I’ve been trying to remember if any of my classes assigned any plant biology textbooks, good or bad. It sounds like you already know enough that recommending a non-textbook like Mendel in the Kitchen would be superfluous, although it is certainly a great read if you’re interested in plant breeding/crop improvement. I will get in touch with a couple of friends who went through very different undergrad programs from mine, see what they can suggest.

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re making the right decision. If I’d stuck with my original major, by now I’d either be an obnoxious investment banker or (much more likely) one of the new surplus of unemployed economics majors. Either way, I’m a lot happier today than I would have been.

    Comment by James — January 9, 2010 @ 10:31 am

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