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

November 12, 2009

Genetically Engineered Crops: Papaya

Photo Reeding, Flickr (Click for photo stream)

Photo Reeding, Flickr (Click for photo stream)

Scientific Name: Carica papaya

Genetically Engineered Trait: Resistance to the papaya ringspot virus

Details of Genetic Engineering:

In the 1990s papaya ringspot virus was in the process of wiping out the Hawaiian papaya industry, then the second largest fruit industry in Hawaii. Conventional approaches such as selective breeding for resistant papayas or attempting to grow trees in isolation had failed. The virus is transmitted by small sap-sucking insects such as aphids. Infected papaya trees can be recognized by the discolored rings on their fruit (that the virus gets its name from) yellow leaves, and most importantly from a papaya farmer’s perpsective a 60-100%* loss of fruit production. (more…)

October 31, 2009

Predictable Spinning of Squash

I dont have any picture of pumpkins handy, so this watermelon (and fellow cucurbit) will have to do.

I don't have any picture of pumpkins handy, so this watermelon (and fellow cucurbit) will have to do.

What could be a more fitting topic for a Halloween post than cucurbits, the family of plants that (in addition to crops like watermelon and cucumber) include squash and pumpkins? Yeah, I know it’s a stretch.

A week ago a paper came out in PNAS (the proceedings of the national academy of sciences. A very prestigious journal, one step down from Science or Nature), that showed when an artificially inserted gene in squashes that provided virus resistance was introgressed into a wild related species it actually made them less fit. Short version: the wild squash also suffer from the virus which attacked domesticated squash but are also attacked by beetles, and the beetles prefer to eat squash without the virus. Tomorrow’s Table has a much better and more complete explanation of the research.

In that post the very first commenter predicted the result, that in this particular case a transgene (like most genes involved in domestication) was beneficial for farmers but not for wild plants, would be spun into “another failure for GMOs” when the real message is “we were worried about pollen drift, but in this case it turns out we didn’t have to be.”

He was right. (more…)

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