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

December 14, 2009

You Think I’m Evil… What Next?

Filed under: Link Posts — Tags: , , , — James @ 11:18 am

I’m a public sector plant biologist. Your tax dollars at work for better or worse. But even I have had similar encounters to the one Janice so accurately describes in this post I was pointed to on twitter*:

I asked what she does and she says mostly volunteer work now.  She asks me and I reply that I work in the cotton business for a company that improves seeds… its Monsanto & the seeds are called Deltapine.

There was an audible gasp, and her eyes opened so much it startled me. She said “Monsanto is evil.” This is where the stress came in. I have read this before, but the fact that I was hearing it today since I’d been making a lot of effort to stay positive seemed like a test. Really. And to have the person, who I’ve pleasantly visited with for five minutes, looking right at me like I’m evil,having just said that heard I am part of Monsanto. It was certainly a test…a test of the Janice-response system.

Seriously, how often do you call someone evil & mean it? She was dead serious.

But the moral of this post isn’t that it sucks to be a plant biologist, it’s that, as painful as it is to have someone look to in the face, and call you evil, there’s still the chance for engagement. At this point I probably would have either changed the subject or put in my iPhone earbuds and hoped the flight would be over soon, but Janice didn’t get mad, didn’t drop the subject, and it sounds like she actually managed to get the other woman to reconsider her categorical opposition to biotechnology. I highly recommend reading her whole post.

*Thanks @MikeHowie and @cornguy

December 2, 2009

Edible Cottonseed

Filed under: agriculture,Feeding the world,Plants — Tags: , , — James @ 1:26 am
Cotton and cotton seeds photo credit: Gonzalez's tongue, Flickr (click to see photo in it's original context)

Cotton and cotton seeds photo credit: Gonzalez's tongue, Flickr (click to see photo in it's original context)

Over 102 million bales of cotton (more than 24 million tons of cotton) were grown around the world last year. I wouldn’t surprise me to hear cotton called the single most important (and widely cultivated) food crop on the face of the planet. But does it have to be a non-food crop?

Clearly no one (nor any livestock) wants to eat the cotton fibers themselves, but they aren’t the only product of the plant. After to cotton plant flowers, the cotton fibers grow around the developing seeds. The combined mixture is harvested each year, after which the seeds are removed from the cotton fibers before the cotton is baled and sold.*

The seeds of the cotton plant are full of protein and oils and since cotton is already grown as a source of fiber (and the seeds are even harvested and sorted out of the cotton fibers already) adding them to the food supply** doesn’t require any further land to be cultivated or increased input costs. Obviously there is a catch… (more…)

November 15, 2009

Genetically Engineered Crops: Cotton

Filed under: agriculture,Crop Profiles — Tags: , , , — James @ 1:54 am

Field of Cotton in South Carolina. Photo: hdport, flickr

Field of Cotton in South Carolina. Photo: hdport, flickr

Scientific Name: Gossypium itscomplicated*

Genetically Engineered Traits: Insect Resistance (bt), Herbicide Resistance

Details of Genetic Engineering:

Cotton has been genetically engineered to resist both glyphosate (by Monsanto) and glufinsate (by Bayer CropScience) under the names Roundup Ready and LibertyLink respectively. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, there are both economic and scientific advantages to having more than one herbicide/herbicide resistance system as it tends to keep prices down, and slows the development of resistant weeds when any resistance they evolve to one herbicide will be useless if the farmer switches to the other for the next growing season.

But the big deal when it comes to genetically engineered cotton is bt cotton that substantially reduces insect damage (and insecticide applications). In the US both Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences sell their own versions of bt cotton using different bt proteins with different specificities. The Chinese government has also developed and deployed their own bt cotton varieties. Bt cotton is the most widely grown** type of genetically engineered plant in the world today, grown in countries like China, India***, and Australia, where other genetically modified crops are not yet approved, for the obvious reason that it’s harder to get people upset about wearing “unnatural” things than eating them.****

Cotton plant in Turkmenistan. Photo: flydime, flickr

Cotton plant in Turkmenistan. Photo: flydime, flickr

About Cotton: (more…)

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