A Glass of Green Pepper-Strawberry Gene Splice Juice


August 25, 2013

Last spring a farmer in Oregon sprayed his field with Roundup, a glyphosate weedkiller.  The weeds died but tufts of wheat in the field did not.  After getting in with a weed scientist from Oregon State University all hell broke loose.  In the beginning, no one really thought this wheat could be genetically modified, but they also knew a few years ago Monsanto had been carrying out field trials in the area.

Well, sure enough, it turned out the wheat was genetically modified (GMO).  This didn’t make a whole lot of folk happy.  The USDA launched an investigation.  Monsanto launched their own investigation—their representative speculated anti-biotech activists may have stolen Monsanto GMO wheat and purposely planted it in the farmer’s field (few folk gave that argument much credibility).  The USDA contact all the seed suppliers the farmer bought seed from.  Two heavy weight rice buyers, Japan and South Korea, shut down all their purchases of U.S. wheat.  And of course, due to no fault of his or her own, the farmer was right smack in the middle of it all.

No one ever figured out how the wheat got into the farmers field.  Since no other GMO wheat was found in Oregon, South Korea started buying U.S. western white and soft white wheat again in early July.  Japan followed suit a few weeks ago.  What seems apparent, and I think surprises few farmers, is if a plant out of doors it just might figure out a way to reproduce itself—whether humans like it or not.  What is also apparent, biotech companies like Monsanto are not going to let a little hiccup stop their work of genetically modifying the food we eat.

I’ve never been a proponent of GMO food.  There are quite a few other folk who also don’t idea of marrying a salmon gene to say a corn gene to get something better.  Seems to me, corn is pretty good as corn and salmon are just fine as they are.  Yet I also realize I have had trouble with a number of the ways science has come up with to reproduce people.  I kind of like the idea of reproduction through sexual intercourse—seems enjoyable for most of the worlds animals and it works for the most part.  However, today I have a lot of non-intercourse produced brothers and sisters and I think I am better off with their smiles, humor, and insights.

I read Gene Logsdon’s essay Organic GMOs? the other day and it got me to wondering if it is possible folk will accept GMO food one day because their benefits seem to outweigh their detriments.  Logsdon talks about the “greening disease” that infects orange trees and can eventually kill them.  There is no cure for the disease and there are no trees in the world that have natural immunity.  The disease could be the end to oranges and orange juice.  This has led genetic scientist to wonder if a spinach gene spliced to that of an orange could result in immunity.  Can it be that a GMO spinach-orange tree is better than a world without oranges?  Or better than the continual aerial bombardment of toxic chemicals throughout the orange tree landscape?

Then there is the Creation question.  What if the created being of some folk is that of a chemist or biologist?  If the mystery of life has allowed humans to be gifted with skills to wonder and imagine a spinach-orange tree that would save oranges and eliminate tons of toxic chemicals being sprayed, should that be given some thought?  A problem with GMO work is that most if not all of it is profit driven.  My guess is the CEO and Board of Monsanto are more concerned with return-on-investment and their stockholders, than the wellbeing of the creative earth.  However, what if the beginning point of GMO chemist and biologist work began with the question of how they might enhance the wellbeing of creation or restore wellbeing in those areas that have become problematic due to past human intervention?

Then again there is the Pluot, hybrid of a plum and an apricot.  Few folk have a problem with hybrids and they taste pretty good.  Yet, I remain a bit conservative on this one.  I like plums, I like apricots, and I like them as they are.  What is right?  What is wrong?  I’m not so sure, but maybe I’ll get a bit of apricot jam on a slice of non-GMO, bread grab a cup of fair coffee, and wonder what life might be like replacing a glass of orange juice with a blend of strawberries and peppers.

© David B. Bell 2013


  1. Hi Dave.

    I enjoyed your post, and sorry for being a bit slow to comment — I’m still something of a newbie to the blog. In any case, I think you raise some interesting points.

    As someone who has studied and worked in molecular biology (albeit focused on cancer) for the better part of the last decade, I think there are a few things that are important to distinguish/define when talking about GMOs. First, although mostly popularized by the media, the term “genetically modified organism (GMO)” is a little vague from a scientific standpoint, as technically virtually every organism on the planet is the unique (i.e. modified) product of genetic variation relative to its parent(s). For example, just as a child may have “his mother’s eyes” but “his father’s ears”, the color of a particular flower may be a blend. Thus, what you are discussing here might be more accurately described as genetically engineered foods.

    Second, I think that an important distinction to try and make is whether a person’s particular aversion to genetically engineered foods is due to fear of the science or fear of the often profit-driven agendas of large biotech companies and the politically powerful involved in their manufacture and regulation. At a ground level, when we talk about genes being isolated from one organism and expressed in another, it is critical (in my opinion) to remember that all life on our planet is tied together by a fundamental genetic code which follows fundamental rules for genetic expression. This is one of the beautiful things that science shows us about creation — that we are all connected to one another and to all other life. For example, human DNA shares approximately 60% genetic identity with that of a banana plant. In other words, expressing a gene isolated from spinach in an orange tree is not like cut and pasting one book inside another, but rather like adding a single sentence to an existing several hundred-page novel — short of an extremely offensive sentence, it’s very unlikely to affect the overall read.

    That said, I believe that much more of the merited concern regarding the development and use of genetically engineered foods is not at the scientific safety level but at the level of its corporate or political exploitation for profit and gain, which rarely have agendas in line with either the scientists who develop the technology or the farmers who work the land to grow our food. Companies like Monsanto clearly push boundaries of safety and control in their efforts to experimentally develop crops that have resistance to strong, toxic chemicals to enable maximizing profit without concern for environmental or health repercussions. Monsanto has also recently bullied irrational legislation (for example, riders preventing food labeling) through congress for no good public relations reason that I can understand. By stark contrast perhaps, “golden rice”, which is developed by the non-profit International Rice Research Institute, is engineered to express beta-carotene, a vital nutrient whose deficiency can cause blindness and immunodeficiency in humans. Their goal is to be able to provide the fortified rice people in southeast Asia where rice is heavily consumed daily but where beta-carotene deficiencies are prevalent. There was an article recently in the New York Times about this: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/sunday-review/golden-rice-lifesaver.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Genetically engineered foods represent a controversial issue for sure. I don’t claim to have the answer more than anyone else, but it seems to me that just like so many things, there is a time and a place. And as you pointed out Dave (which I think is spot on), if we approached their use based on where they can safely improve an unmet health or agricultural need (particularly in the developing world) rather than simply how can we make as much as possible as cheaply as possible, it would be a good start.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s