Thursday, February 13, 2014

Poplar bushes and rose trees

Ed and LuAnn are taking a self deserved, sorry, a well deserved vacation, so here's a piece of mine:

If you think that GMOs are limited  to corn, soybeans and a few more crops and some medicine, and that the future of GMOs will be an expansion of this trend toward higher yield or resistance to pests and more crops, think again. Financial investors and scientists are currently looking at the most expensive compounds on Earth and not just trying, but finding ways to produce them via genetic engineering.

As a side result of cellulose ethanol research, Udub (University of Washington, that's its nickname around here) has recently been working on synthesizing rose scent, not by adding more of the rose scent (its main ingredient is a form of volatile ethanol) genes to the flower of the rose bush as you'd expect, but to the leaves of the poplar tree. I suppose they will be missing on the complexity of the dozens of compounds that together make the rose scent, different varieties of English roses come to mind, but that should be good enough for toilet paper...

The fact is that regardless if you are "pro" and "anti" GMO (which in my opinion is the wrong way to look at the issue,) they are already present and used to synthesize food such as aspartame (diet drinks), vital drugs such as insuline, the rBST hormone most dairy cows are treated with, and too many others to list.

So, if you are against GMOs, do you make a distinction between GMOs used for crops, for other plants such as this rose-poplar so horribly illustrated by myself, and other genetic engineering of yeasts or E. coli to produce substances they were not designed to make? Is that "playing God", is it artificial or still a natural process? The ethical part of the debate is probably not relevant to GMOs, but there will probably be always a need for risk assessment. Udub for instance is careful to harvest the poplar before it can reproduce, but it is only a matter of time before a sapling or grain of pollen or seed escapes from the lab or field and contaminates other poplars.

I hope we'll see one or two grains and vegetables with a B12 vitamin gene in the next decade. I am not vegan, but it seems it's the only essential nutrient they are missing from animal products, so as well have it synthesized by some plants rather than taking a pill supplement. Maybe we can get rid of all the "enriched" flour, cereal and milk in the same way.



  1. Thanks, Chime! Can't wait to tell you all about our Monsanto tour!

  2. Oh yes, I understand the biotech companies are quite prevalent over there, with the climate allowing 2-3 row crops per year.

    It's funny Monsanto decided not to introduce any more GMOs in Europe (their Bt corn 810 is approved there and grown in Spain mostly) when DuPont just got their Pioneer 1507 corn approved this week.

    Try several new tropical fruits every day, since you love fruits!
    And bring back macadamia nuts to plant!