Change your crop, change your soil

Soybean planted into wheat stubble. Image by Jason Miller, USDA-NRCS, via Flickr.

When I was a college student, almost every ag-related class I took mentioned the benefits of the “rotation effect” (better yields, fewer pests, etc.). However, aside from insect pests, how the “rotation effect” actually worked was always taught in only general terms, especially when it came to rotation effects in the soil. Recently, however, genetic methods are allowing soil scientists to begin to see what happens in the soil when a crop is grown. In their paper, Comparative metatranscriptomics reveals kingdom level changes in the rhizosphere microbiome of plants, Turner et al. describe the genetic tool they used, metatranscriptomics, and

Ecosystems are not smart, we are.

Cover crop seed blend of 17 species

In my recent post Don’t mimic nature on the farm, improve it, I argued that we should cast aside the ideas of “balance of nature” and “nature knows best” in designing farming systems. There is no reason to “follow nature’s lead” if nature has not been optimized by any process that we know of, and therefore consists of mostly random mixes of species dictated primarily by natural disturbances. But if we don’t, what are we left with? We are left with an agriculture based on human ingenuity, consisting of: Crop rotations; or better yet, dynamic crop sequences. Residue management and

How does BT work?

Adult corn borer. By Tony Morris vis Flickr.

Life, at it’s most basic level is really just a series of chemical reactions. Biochemists and molecular biologists, such as myself, look at how life works at the very most basic level. Unfortunately, this stuff is all very complicated and there are few resources online to explain how this work. Anastasia has a wonderful post about how Bt corn works in transformed plants, titled simply ‘Bt‘. In the post, she focuses on how the protein works from the angle of a plant biologist. In this post, I will be discussing the protein from the angle of an entomologist. Specifically,

E.coli’s use in GMOs: can you get E.coli poisoning?

The cloning process.

For my first post on Biofortified, I’d like to share an account of an exchange that started on Twitter. It all began when I stumbled upon a doozy of a story, about how you can get E. coli poisoning from GMOs. The author outlines that E.coli is used during the course of genetic engineering to replicate DNA since it is highly prolific. But, the author highlights, E.coli is also able to transfer DNA laterally to and from other species. Then the author says: “It is possible that a mutated form of e-coli resulting from the cloning process used in creating GMOs could

Don’t Mimic Nature on the Farm, Improve it


Behind many efforts to make agriculture more sustainable is the idea that our farming systems need to be more like nature. According to agroecologist Miguel Alteri, “By designing farming systems that mimic nature, optimal use can be made of sunlight, soil nutrients, and rainfall.” This strategy arises from a long history of thinking that there exists a “balance of nature.” This idea has greatly influenced how we look at nature1 and agriculture. In the latter case, it drives much of what is done in organic farming and agroecology, but also finds its way into no-till farming. Nonetheless, it is