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

July 22, 2011

The problem with papayas

Filed under: Uncategorized — James @ 7:39 am

Papayas genetically engineered to resist papaya ringspot virus were developed in the public/non-profit sector (Cornell University, the University of Hawaii and the US Department of Agriculture). So none of the “I don’t have a problem with the science of genetic engineering, I just don’t like/trust big companies patenting life” arguments apply.

The engineered papayas were released as the ringspot virus began to devastate the Hawaiian papaya crop back in 1998 and have been grown and consumed successfully ever since.

The engineered papayas’ resistance is the result of expressing a protein from the coat of the papaya ringspot virus and engineered papayas contain less of this protein than the fruit of infected trees. Yet the fruit of diseased trees can be sold as “organic” while the fruit of healthy resistant trees (distinguished only by containing less viral protein) cannot.

The engineered papayas even provide herd immunity that makes it possible to grow un-improved organic papayas for export to countries like Japan that reject much genetic engineering.

But the engineered papayas do have one clear (and sometimes fatal) flaw which is only now becoming apparent. They aren’t immune to the machetes of the ignorant.

h/t @Franknfood


  1. I presume U of H and Cornell are now working on machete resistant papaya?

    Comment by Ewan R — July 22, 2011 @ 11:19 am

  2. I once talked to a professor about GE fruit and he told me that one of the things holding it back was the fruit growers themselves. This seemed a bit strange to me because I would have assumed that they of all people would see their use and would be the most interested in new varieties that could improve their farms in various ways. However, my professor explained that they were not edgy about GE fruits because of the traits of the crops themselves, but were worried about potential backlash, both in the form of consumer rejection (since fruits, unlike most of the harvest of other GE crops, are often eaten fresh where the consumer could come face to face with a GMO), and in the form of vandalism, which is pretty worrying for someone who has a couple years lost production as an opportunity cost of switching varieties.

    I kinda of though that was a bit overly cautious on the part of fruit farmers. Maybe I was wrong. If this does turn out to be anti-GE in nature and not just some random punks going on the fruit equivalent of cow tipping, (I’d be curious to know what other fruits were being grown in the region. If it was only the GE papayas being specifically targeted and not bananas or non-GE papayas something it would really look like an anti-GMO attack), I would worry about a ripple of fear running through the fruit growing community, further hindering the progress of other GE fruits (which is hindered enough as it is). Of course if this is anti-GE in nature I’m sure those responsible would be just delighted at the thought of their misdeeds creating a chilling effect.

    Either way, I hope they get brought to justice and soon. Attacking an orchard, jeez.

    And I have, if memory serves, seen the anti-corporate arguments used against the Rainbow papaya too. Pretty easy to do when you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about and/or believe in the Monsanto/Illuminati/Big Fill-in-the-Blank conspiracy

    Comment by GregH — July 23, 2011 @ 9:58 pm

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