Sex and death in the cornfields: What is a refuge?

A lot of people have sent me news articles about the spread of Bt-resistant corn rootworm because they know I am interested in transgenic Bt.  These articles have alarming titles like Voracious worm evolves to eat biotech corn engineered to kill it and Evolution one-ups genetic modificationYes,  unfotunately, corn rootworm that are resistant to transgenic Bt corn are real (Cullen 2013, EPA 2014a). But the story is more complex than you’d think from these headlines. To explain, I’d like to talk about IRM (insect resistance management), specifically, the IRM for Bt corn targeting pest caterpillars (Lepidoptera).  Please note that corn rootworms are not Lepidopterans, but Lepidopterans are a good model for understanding how IRM works. Continue reading.

Biological Pest Control Basics

Biological pest control

Lady beetle, by Scott Bauer. (Wikimedia Commons)

Managing pests is an important part of cultivating plants whether you are tending a small garden in your yard or several fields of crops. Insect predators can make short work of healthy plants, particularly if insect predators are in abundance. The good news is that there are natural ways to combat these pests that growers have been utilizing for many years. Granted, not all solutions are created equal. There are a number of reasons why biological control efforts may fail; including breeding being out of sync or the countermeasure not being strong enough.

The primary points of biological pest control are:

  • Classic Biological Control
  • Conservation
  • Augmentation

Each offers its own pros and cons with success hinging on a large number of factors that is impossible to completely define. Even still, these methods have traditionally been effective for a number of growers and have been used since the dawn of farming. Continue reading.

One Thousand Celebrations of Science!

1000-2Today, on the Biofortified Blog we have reached an important milestone. For over five years we have been blogging, having a conversation, and building resources for people to learn about science, plants, agriculture, and particularly genetically engineered crops, and now we have a total of 1,000 blog posts! While I did give an update on posts, hits, and comments back in October when we passed 1,000,000 views, I’m going to take a moment to show everyone where we’re heading, and then I’ll give you an update on our Bring Frank N. Foode™ to Life! Kickstarter project and announce the winner of a Silver Bullet Frank N. Foode™ from our Plant Plushie™ design vote!

1,000 Posts Baby!

Wow! We’re really at 1,000 posts! I can’t adequately express through words how awesome this is. Each post about science on our blog has been interesting, informative, engaging, thought-provoking, and helpful to people looking for information and discussion about important issues. Each has taken hours to research, write, illustrate, edit, and publish, followed by discussions that go even longer (sometimes 500 comments longer)! If you have contributed one of these fantastic posts, think about what it took to put it together, and multiply that by one thousand!

There are many different ways to visualize how massive this collective writing exercise is. How much has been written? I exported the posts to look at how much we have all written.

  • 1,000 posts
  • 1,704 single-spaced pages in Word at 12 point Times New Roman font
  • 12,500 paragraphs
  • 925,000 words

Who is writing these posts? While initially, Anastasia, Pam, David, and myself (& Frank) wrote most of the posts with a few guests, that trend is starting to change. Out of 1,000 posts, 816 have been written by us, and 184 by our guests and contributors. That doesn’t sound like a huge proportion when reported that way, but let’s think about it another way. When I last reported how many posts we had by each of our contributors, there were about 150 out of 921. So about 34 out of 79 new posts were written by our many different contributors – almost half! (And we have quite a few in the editing queue and new contributors working on drafts of the first posts!) Our blog is reflecting our growing and vibrant community, bringing ideas and topics up to be discussed that we wouldn’t have if it were not for all of you! Let’s keep this trend going. Continue reading.

Dear Legislator, About that GMO Labeling bill…


Massachusetts and surrounding states. Vermont recently passed an unrestricted bill on GMO labeling. Source:

Like a number of other states, GMO labeling in Massachusetts has been inching along for a while. Recently it came to the surface, which has prompted me to write to state politicians with some thoughts on the bill and the issues. After sending a first letter expressing disappointment at support for this bill, one thoughtful reply from a politician that I respect very much arrived in my box. I don’t feel I’m at liberty to reproduce the text, but it was a reasonable explanation of this legislator’s position.

To summarize, this legislator explained that the bill as they saw it was a nothing more than right to know what’s in the tofu we buy, and that although they are not opposed to genetically modified crops per se, they got a lot of calls about this bill. Clearly this person has been following the issue for a while, citing reports from over a decade ago, as well as more recent local media treatment of the issue. Their perspective has been mostly influenced by certain activist groups, it appears. They noted that this bill is about transparency, and not anti-science in intent. And this person expressed dismay that scientists aren’t conversing with policy makers. It ended with a plea for scientists to speak out on the underlying science more.

I have crafted a reply to that response with more details. I’m posting this letter below, with light edits for clarification. I hope I captured enough of the directions of the legislator’s position that it will make sense without the full text, but if not, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to clarify anything. Continue reading.

Five Tasty Reasons To Reconsider GMO Crops

Wine and Chocolate, Wikimedia Commons

Feeding the world may not seem like an urgent need from the perspective of a rich society with an obesity epidemic. Technologies that make life easier and less risky for farmers may not seem compelling in a society with very few people have anything to do with crop production. Developing rice to prevent blindness and death in poor countries generates vehement opposition from some elements of our wealthy society. There are, however, some threats to the future of our lifestyles that might motivate consumers to take a second look at the debate around GMO crops.

What if premium coffee, gourmet chocolate, fine California wine, bananas, or not-from-concentrate orange juice become costly or scarce? Would that matter to you?

The fact is, there are significant threats to the future production of those luxury crops.  I’ll describe those threats below. Yet, because of the influence of the anti-GMO movement, we are far less prepared to deal with these threats than we could have been. Continue reading.