Vote on our next Kickstarter plush!

posted in: Science, Updates | 10

Hi everyone! Frank N. Foode™ here. Wow, our Kickstarter has been going great, and I’m so happy to see everyone chipping in to bring me to life! We just reached our T-shirt Stretch Goal – so now anyone can get a T-shirt saying you were a part of this! (You can even get just the T-shirt by itself!) Ok, enough talkin’ about that stuff – it’s time to talk about bringing one of my friends to life. If we can raise our Kickstarter pledges to $16,000 we will make a second plush, and we want you to help us decide. I’m going to tell you a little about each of their stories, and you can vote on which is the first story we can tell in plush form.

Hawai’ian Papaya

alberto
Alberto, a papaya farmer I met in Puna whose livelihood was saved by genetically engineered papayas.

Ah, if you have heard any story about a genetically engineered crop, it should be about the papayas in Hawai’i! They were about to be wiped out by a viral disease, and there was no way that it could be stopped, except when Dr. Dennis Gonsalves and his team at Cornell University genetically engineered a papaya that was resistant to the disease. They actually used part of the virus itself to block the virus from attacking the cells of the papaya. In 1998, after papaya farms were falling apart and some about to go under, the first seeds of these new trees were approved and released to farmers. Today, more than 8 out of 10 papayas grown in Hawai’i are genetically engineered.

It has been more than 15 years since this happened, but even in Hawai’i some people don’t quite know the story. In the public debates going on lately, some even try to say that it didn’t happen that way. How can a humble papaya in the grocery store tell people about the backstory of science, precaution, and determination that made it possible for the papaya to be there? We need the help of an ambassador for the story of the Hawai’ian papaya!

If you want to learn more about its development, Karl did an interview with Dr. Gonsalves – and I’m there too!

Do you want to bring this papaya to life?

Papaya

“Beti” Brinjal

800px-Leucinodes_orbonalis
Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer Source: Wikimedia Commons

The next story I want to talk to you about is the story of an eggplant. India is the birthplace of the eggplant – or brinjal as they are commonly known in the region (the name brinjal actually comes from the Portuguese). It is important both culturally an for culinary reasons, and there are so many different varieties grown in different regions, and find themselves eaten in many different dishes. The diversity seen in your local grocery store is but a small slice of this diversity.

But growing brinjal has many challenges, and there are many problems facing farmers in Asian countries today. Insect pests like the Brinjal Fruit and Shoot Borer devastate brinjal plants, leaving farmers little recourse but to spray insecticides throughout the season to keep from losing half or more of their crop. These sprays aren’t always sprayed in the safest conditions.

Like Bt corn and cotton has helped protect these crops against insects, Bt Brinjal was genetically engineered to help these farmers grow their Brinjal crops while being protected from these pests, and eliminate the harms that come from the use of insecticides. By using the same kind of Bt protein from soil bacteria that are in these other crops, Bt Brinjal was intended to help the plight of small farmers, and as a model for crops bred for many uses, they were going to release not one, but four different varieties of brinjal with the gene!

bt-brinjal

In India there was strong opposition from Greenpeace and other groups who were determined not to let them have access to it. It is still a political controversy there today. But this year, Bangladesh became the first country to approve Bt Brinjal – and the first 20 farmers were given plants to grow on their farms. This story is developing as we go, and we need an ambassador to help tell the story as it unfolds. So, I would like to introduce you to Beti Brinjal, and ask that you also consider bringing her to life!

Eggplant

“Greenie” the Orange

Citrus Greening
Source: ABC

Finally, we get to our third and final story, the story of the plight of my friends the Orange trees in Florida. The orange trees are in trouble from a disease called Citrus Greening that is spreading fast and leading to the trees being cut down, and pesticides sprayed in a desperate attempt to keep the groves alive for just a little longer. Some say that the Florida orange doesn’t have much more time than 5 years before it will be on its way out.

The genetic diversity of citrus is not yet up to the task to mount any defense against the disease. Fruit tree breeding takes a long time, much longer for a single new variety than the time that is left. What some in the orange industry are turning to is genetic engineering, to bring the genetic diversity of other species in to save the orange.

I could tell you more, but the best telling of this tale was done by Amy Harmon at the New York Times, in A Race to Save the Orange by Altering its DNA. Read it, and come back.

This story is unfolding before us, and we need an ambassador to help people understand the problem and what is being done to develop a solution before it is too late. To tell this story, I would like to introduce you to Greenie the Orange, who, if you bring him to life, will be the first plush plant that will transform before your eyes. One moment, Greenie will be green, sick, and in need of help, and the next moment healthy, orange, and happy again! I hope you will also consider giving Greenie a chance.

Orange2Orange1

Vote on our next Kickstarter plush!

Cast your vote below, and tell us what you want us to make! When we can clearly tell what plush you want us to make first, second, and third, we will announce the order and put it all online for everyone to see! We want to make our backers happy, so if you are a backer, please identify yourselves in this survey. If you want to make sure your opinion is hear loud and clear, there’s no better time than now to pledge to make this possible!

In the comments, please tell us what you think about these characters, and whether you’re on #teampapaya, #teambrinjal, or #teamorange! $16,000 in pledges will get us there, and we will closely monitor the numbers and bring this number down if we can to make it possible. We want to make it happen, and I hope you will to!

Note: Voting is now closed – the Hawai’ian Papaya was the top pick to be the next plush!

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Frank N. Foode™ is your friendly neighborhood genetically modified organism. Email him at franknfoode(AT)biofortified[DOT]org.
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