James and the Giant Corn Rotating Header Image

February 5th, 2010:

Not Genetically Engineered: The EverMild Onion

Sprouting onions. Photo: J. C. Rojas, flickr (click to see photo in its original context)

This isn’t a lot that is biologically exciting about the EverMild onion from what I can tell. Hopefully there will be more details on Monday when these onions are officially announced on Monday, but the short version seems to be that plant breeders at Seminis have developed a variety of sweet onion that can be grown in the pacific northwest over the winter, supplying sweet onions grown within the US at a time when they normally must be shipped in from the tropics or southern hemisphere.

So plant breeding has produced a new hardier variety of sweet onion* and is taking part in the new trend towards “branded” breeds of produce (like the Jazzman rice I talked about earlier this year). This would normally hardly be news (Seminis sells over 3500 kinds of seeds and they’re adding one more), and if it was at all, would be a story of reducing the demand for imported food with new varieties adapted to the US (again there are parallels to the Jazzman rice story). But I expect we will be hearing a fair bit about the EverMild onion at some point, because Seminis was bought by Monsanto several years ago, and I’ve alreadying read comments from people convinced it is a “secret GMO.” Nevermind that sweet onions (onions breeds that are lower in sulpher) have been around for a century. (more…)

Some Evidence Suggests Trees Are Growing Faster

A Tree photo: me

In a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper from this week that has been picked up across the popular press, researchers in Maryland report that the trees they’re studying are growing measurably faster than they “should” be.

From US News and World Report:

During the past 22 years CO2 levels at SERC have risen 12%, the mean temperature has increased by nearly three-tenths of a degree and the growing season has lengthened by 7.8 days. The trees now have more CO2 and an extra week to put on weight. Parker and McMahon suggest that a combination of these three factors has caused the forest’s accelerated biomass gain.

These aren’t small changes either. The authors are quoted as saying the forests they’re taking measurements on are growing two to four times faster than they normally would. Very cool stuff. What I’d read previously suggested the increased temperatures brought about by an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere would more than cancel out the benefits to plants of having more CO2 available. Of course most of the work I read about has to do with food crops, not trees*, and trying to predict how plants will react to changes in the atmosphere and climate can get a bit circular since how plants react will also influence the state of the climate and atmosphere in decades to come.

The research article itself is open access, meaning anyone can read it for free (without having to be associated with a major research university that holds an institutional subscription, which is how I normally get access). Click here and then click the Full Text (PDF) link on the right to grab the whole paper.

h/t to Greensparrow Gardens

*Not that trees can’t produce food.