Until recently, I never put too much thought into where farmers get the seeds that they grow into the foods we eat. I assumed they saved seeds from their previous crop. I thought this would give the farmer more control over his or her operation and save money. I presumed that if a farmer chose to buy seeds, they would do so out of convenience. In reality, most farmers buy new seeds every year because of genetics! Now I know, and to help people understand the scientific rationale of purchasing new seeds every year, a group of young scientists, including myself, made a short video. In the video, we describe what hybrid plants are, and their benefits to agriculture. We illustrate what would happen if a farmer kept and grew the seeds produced by the hybrid plants. The video was made by UC Davis scientists Jenna Gallegos (graduate student),
“Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward.” – Professor Xavier I love that quote from X-Men. Other than the last sentence, it’s true. Mutations happen at a fairly constant rate and can occur every time a cell divides. Although we tend to think of mutations as negative events associated with genetic diseases or cancer, some mutations are beneficial: in our species, mutations have allowed for adaptation to high altitude in Tibetans or have protected individuals from heart disease. The same is true in nature: mutations allow for plants to develop resistance to pests, or in the case of weeds, to pesticides. However, as Professor Xavier points out in the opening credits of the movie,
When European settlers came to America, they found vast forests in the Appalachian mountains, dominated by the American chestnut. The chestnut quickly worked its way into the lives and culture of our country, and was used for lumber, food, forage, and fuel. But today, the chestnut is nearly gone – almost completely wiped out by a blight that was accidentally imported on a Chinese chestnut tree. The impacts of this loss have been felt across the Appalachians, and even to parts of the Midwest. But today there is a concerted effort to bring it back – and to use modern genetics to do it. Two fascinating projects have been underway for years, employing breeding and genetic engineering. Last fall, thanks to the help of some of our readers, I was able to attend a presentation by Dr. William Powell at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY. I also got a tour of
The International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) and Biology Fortified have produced a special video tribute to the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, a legendary CIMMYT scientist who developed high-yielding, semi-dwarf wheat that started the Green Revolution which is credited with saving over 1 billion people from starvation. The release of this tribute coincides with The Borlaug Summit on Wheat for Food Security, on what would have been the 100th birthday of Dr. Borlaug. His message of increasing food production and the importance of using science in this effort are still important today – perhaps more than ever as the world has over 7 billion people and still growing. To follow this event, go to www.borlaug100.org, and follow the #borlaug100 hashtag in social media. For more information about CIMMYT, visit www.cimmyt.org.
There’s a new genetically engineered potato in town that doesn’t brown when cut or fried, nor does it make acrylamide. J. R. Simplot Company petitioned the USDA to deregulate their Innate™ potatoes, and the public comment period has just been opened up on that petition. We sent Simplot some questions about their new potatoes and the technology used to make them, and their Vice President of Plant Sciences, Haven Baker, was happy to respond. Here is that interview, and if you have more questions about it feel free to ask more, as we have asked Haven to stick around for the discussion. 1. Can you tell us about the new Innate potato traits? How was it decided that these traits would be important to work on? Absolutely. Simplot is both a pioneering potato processor and food company. With over 60 years in the potato business, we are aware of a