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

November 10, 2009

Genetically Engineered Crops: Soybean

Soybean field. Photo: Big Grey Mare, Flickr (click photo to view photostream)

Soybean field. Photo: Big Grey Mare, Flickr (click photo to view photostream)

Scientific Name: Glycine max

Genetically Engineered Traits: Herbicide Resistance

Details of Genetic Engineering:

The genetic engineering of soybeans is pretty similar to that of Canola. Roundup Ready soybeans (produced by Monsanto) have been on the market for some time. The soybeans, which allowed farmers to spray an herbicide that kills all the plants in the field besides the soybeans themselves, have been a huge hit with market shares >90%. The benefit here is that being able to use herbicide resistant soybeans has been linked to increased use of no-till farming.* Bayer CropScience recently received regulatory approval for LibertyLink soybeans, their own herbicide + resistance system. Having another system is good for two reasons:

  1. Competition brings down prices for farmers
  2. Being able to rotate between two different herbicides prolongs the usefulness of both. Even if weeds develop some resistance to glyphosate (the active ingredient Roundup Ready crops are resistant to) the weeds are killed next year when the farmer sprays Glufosinate (the active ingredient that Liberty Link crops are resistant to).

About Soybeans: (more…)

October 29, 2009

Crops and Colbert

I love the Colbert Report, but could somebody who knows something about agriculture and plant genetics please sit down with Stephen Colbert until he knows what he’s talking about food wise? Every so often he’ll make these incredibly uneducated jokes about food production. It’s weird to be suddenly jerked out of enjoying the episode as I remember “These guys are comedians, not experts.”

Back in April he turned the debate about Michelle Obama’s organic garden into a crack at round-up ready soybeans. Yesterday*, in the middle of a funny bit about breeding people who might actually be able to get health insurance, we got the mocking:

After all, selective breeding and genetic modification have worked miracles for our fruits, vegetables and livestock.

Yes they really have. Let’s leave genetic engineering out of the mix (after all most people having eaten a genetically engineered fruit or vegetable in their lives, unless you’re a big fan of papayas, or certain kinds of squash, and genetic engineering of livestock is way behind where we are with plants). Selective breeding of plants over thousands of years is what feeds the wold today and has for millennia. Before the advent of agriculture, which was made possible by selective breeding to domesticate plants and animals, the world supported, what, 5-10 million hunter gatherers, spread across the entire face of the globe?

Without selective breeding of crops and livestock we wouldn’t have a civilization to begin with, let alone one advanced enough to have developed not only our complex (but good) system of medicine but also our complex (and not so good) medical insurance.

I’m serious, does anyone know if there’s a way to nominate people to be interviewed on the Colbert Report? I want to nominate Pamela Ronald and Roger Beachy.

*I have to catch the Daily Show and Colbert Report the day after  the fact on Hulu.

Powered by WordPress