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

November 29, 2009

Could we feed ourselves with tomatoes?

Filed under: Feeding the world,Fun With Numbers — Tags: , — James @ 10:10 am

Obviously no one is suggesting turning the US into a tomato monoculture, but tomatoes seem like a easy, if not necessarily accurate, proxy for the sort of fresh vegetable passed diets that some people advocate as a solution for the entire nation. If the did the same calculation for lettuce, the numbers would likely be much worse. If I did it for sweet potatoes, I’m guessing they would be substantially better.

There is a very useful resource on growing tomatoes made available by the Iowa State extension service. They estimate yields of 12,000-16,000 pounds of tomato per acre. A pound of tomatoes contains 86 calories. (more…)

November 19, 2009

About the herbicide application report that’s floating around

I’m sure everyone who follows the genetic engineering debate has heard about the report from The Organic Center which lays a net increase in pesticide usage at the feet of genetically engineered crops. So I finally found a link to the report itself [warning pdf, also 69 pages]. I’m neither a statistician nor an agronomist (despite my awesome ISU hat which has exactly that slogan), so I’m not qualified to confirm or refute the numbers they put forward. Hopefully we’ll see more detailed analysis on that end from someplace like Biofortified or Sustainablog. I now have some analysis of the methodology of the report itself, tracked down by gntis on the biofortified forums. What I can do is given a bit of the broader context about the context of their numbers and what they don’t mean. This post will be in the following format:

  • The 318 million pounds in context
  • Chemicals are different
  • –Different Toxicity
  • –Different Persistance in the Environment
  • Herbicide resistant weeds
  • One trait vs a technology

318 Million Pounds in Context

Example tweet:

Pesticide use has skyrocketed by 318 million lbs (in last 13 years) with use of #GMO seeds!

Let’s put that number in perspective. (more…)

November 12, 2009

Hawaiian Pineapples and the Seed Industry

Filed under: agriculture,Fun With Numbers — Tags: , , , — James @ 2:37 pm
Pineapple. Wish I'd thought to check for a country of origin...

Pineapple. Wish I'd thought to check for a country of origin...

Since today seems to have a tropical theme, here’s another post about Hawaii:

The corn breeding industry is expanding in Hawaii*. The pineapple industry is contracting. People seem to be blaming the second on the first, and are passing this article around. My reading of the article, and some other statistics I looked, don’t seem to agree with the story line (evil GMO seed companies driving out the pineapple industry) that people seem to be suggesting.

Yes, Monsanto did buy out one of Hawaii’s three remaining large pineapple growers several years ago (as of 2007 there were also 49 small pineapple producers growing pineapples on 1-15 acres and a single medium sized grower with between 100-250 acres), but Maui Land & Pineapple Co., the company this article talks about, isn’t selling out to a seed company, they’re switching to the production of other crops instead of pineapples. One company sells its land and shuts down, another stays in the farming business but gives up on pineapples and announced plans to grow a more diverse range of crops. To me, that suggests it is becoming harder and harder to make a profit growing pineapples in Hawaii. (more…)

October 26, 2009

Time to Eat The Dog

Filed under: Feeding the world,Fun With Numbers — James @ 11:37 am

With a title like Time to Eat the Dog? A real guide to sustainable living you can sure a book will sell a lot of copies, and earn the authors a fair bit of hatemail at the same time. The book itself by Robert and Brenda Vale received mixed reviews on amazon.uk. But what about the premise of the book? (Which isn’t actually that dogs make great food sources, but rather that keeping carnivores as pets is a major resource burden.)

In an article on new scientist, the authors calculate that it takes .84 hectares (that’s over 2 acres!) of farmland to support a medium sized dog. Larger dogs like German Shepherds have a footprint of 1.1 hectares (2.7 acres)  Through some calculations they then start comparing the impact of a dog to various cars, but that hinges on assigning energy production values to farmland, which in my opinion is the weak link in their calculation.

So why not look at how dog ownership compares to the land required to feed a human being? (more…)

October 12, 2009

Could someone check my math?

Filed under: Feeding the world,Fun With Numbers — James @ 9:33 pm


Per capita meat consumption in America is 124.8 kilos per year. Which is ~275 pounds per year, 5.3 pounds per week, and almost exactly 3/4 of a pound per day.

That seems like a lot to me. I mean that’s three quarter-pound hamburgers each and every day. On occasion I’ve hit twice that, maybe thrice in a single meal. But when I say on occasion, I mean every once in a long while. I can’t believe the occasional, delicious, burger binge would bring my average up to three quarters of a pound on a per-day basis.

Have I made an obvious math error? Am I eating less like the average American than I realize? Anyone have more insight into this statistic?

October 9, 2009

How viable is local food?

Filed under: agriculture,Fun With Numbers — James @ 7:21 pm

Before I begin, let me say there’s absolutely nothing wrong with supporting your local farmers through CSAs, farmers markets, or direct purchases. I’ve done similar things before and it makes sense in the same way I’d prefer to support local businesses over national chains It keeps money in the local economy and even if it didn’t, it is always more fun cheering for the home team.*

That said how viable is solely local food (usually with an arbitrary cut off of 30 or 50, or even 100 miles from its point of origin) for providing all the food for all the residents a major city? (more…)

September 30, 2009

Driving home how fortunate I am

Filed under: Campus Life,Fun With Numbers — James @ 5:24 am

According to this report (warning link is a PDF): 34% of workers under 35 still live with their parents. 52% of those under 35 and making less than $30,000 a year (me). Now from the way the statistic is phrased I assume that it includes teenagers with jobs, and excludes college kids without jobs. Even with those two caveats, it’s a frightening number.

Makes me grateful to be living in the apartment I share with only one roommate, noisy neighbors and all. It’s scary to realize how much of my generation is not so fortunate.

October 18, 2008

Upgrade complete

Filed under: Electronics,Fun With Numbers — James @ 4:09 pm

You might recognize this computer:
Then again you might not. After all a black box isn’t very distinctive. Regardless, this is the central server of my home network. It stores 3.25 terabytes of data between internal and external hard drives, can serve video to any computer in the house, and is accessible via VNC or ssh anywhere in the world (that I can get internet access), and draws less electricity than the average lightbulb. And now, after the arrival of a gift and less than an hour’s work it’s more useful than ever.

As I outlined before, the main bottleneck I faced was processor speed. With the arrival of the components I’d talked about that bottleneck no longer exists! Everything happens blazingly fast. I can’t wait to try out WUBLAST on this new and improved machine. I want to build a private database of the rice, sorghum, maize, and brachypodium genomes (and platypus genome, why not?) all in one location.

The wonderful thing about doing bioinformatics, is that if you just feel like messing around and seeing what there is to find, it doesn’t take hundreds of dollars of reagents in a controlled lab environment with super expensive pieces of equipment.

But applications later, for now I just want to enjoy how cool it is!


August 3, 2008


Filed under: Fun With Numbers — James @ 9:23 pm

Like Kevin Bacon, but less fun:

If this doesn’t make sense then you don’t have to worry about it.

June 27, 2008

I’m the second hit on google!

Filed under: Entertainment,Fun With Numbers — Tags: — James @ 5:39 pm

This is very thrilling. Of course I’m still losing out to a genealogy site, so it reflects more the rarity of my name than my importance in the world. Just like a search for James Giant Corn returns this site as the top hit, there just isn’t a lot of competition. But I sure showed the guy with my name who finished in the mid-40s in a bass fishing contest who’s boss! 😉

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