Valentine’s Day=Flowers=Agriculture!

14 02 2011

If you are lucky enough to ever have received flowers on Valentine’s Day you are playing a role in the agricultural sector called Horticulture: Horticulture is the industry and science of plant cultivation including the process of preparing soil for the planting of seeds, tubers, or cuttings…etc

We all know that scientists are mixing and matching genes to make brilliant corn plants for our fields that ward off pesky bugs or to make wonderful bean plants that are resistant to important herbicides that kill off pesky weeds.

But what are these brilliant scientists doing in Horticulture to bring you even more spectacular flowers than mother nature can provide? Who would have guessed that your flower bed could be a product of genetic engineering?!

Even more amazing, that the same technology bringing us super purple petunias, could be life-saving (or at least life-altering!!) as well!

NOVA has the answer.

For more information/the longer 14 minute version go to:


Roundup Ready [Insert Name of Crop Here]

3 02 2011

The Roundup ready revolution is here… agriculturalists are all well aware of the miracles roundup can provide. First with soybeans now alfalfa, corn, cotton, spring canola, sugarbeets and winter canola. However the phrase “We have the technology” doesn’t mean we can use the technology. Lower courts had actually prohibited Roundup alfalfa to be sold without further study which was appealed by the Supreme Court. Many feared that alfalfa regulations (such as dictating where it could and could not be planted) would be a precedent for other GM crops. 

Well, the fat lady finally sang and Roundup Ready Alfalfa growers enjoyed their front row seats. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that Roundup Ready Alfalfa may be planted without restriction. “After conducting a thorough and transparent examination of alfalfa through a multi-alternative environmental impact statement (EIS) and several public comment opportunities, APHIS has determined that Roundup Ready alfalfa is as safe as traditionally bred alfalfa,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “All of the alfalfa production stakeholders involved in this issue have stressed their willingness to work together to find solutions. We greatly appreciate and value the work they’ve done so far and will continue to provide support to the wide variety of sectors that make American agriculture successful.”

However, many seem upset that the show is finally over. One article states, “USDA has become a rogue agency in its regulation of biotech crops and its decision to appease the few companies who seek to benefit from this technology comes despite increasing evidence that GE alfalfa will threaten the rights of American farmers and consumers, as well as damage the environment.”  It goes on to say, “To win these critical and difficult battles, the entire organic community, and our allies in the conventional food and farming community, will have to work together.” Apparently those in favor of organic foods are the Allies and biotechnology is the Axis Powers… I didn’t know that trying to feed the world was a crime.

And another states, “This creates a perplexing situation when the market calls for a supply of crops free of genetic engineering. The organic standards prohibit the use of genetic engineering, and consumers will not tolerate the accidental presence of genetic engineered materials in organic products yet GE crops continue to proliferate unchecked,” said Christine Bushway, executive director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association in a statement. If anything the high prices of organic foods is the crime. Regardless, I’m not sure why organic is such an issue when people don’t necessarily eat alfalfa (who really eats alfalfa sprouts anyways). I don’t know any organic cows or rabbits who are overly concerned about organic verse GM crops.

Finally, and most importantly, I feel that farmers have the right to grow whatever they wish on their own property. It is each individual’s responsibility to preserve the integrity of their fields in the best way we see fit. Part of that responsibility is detasseling and other measures to preserve that integrity. Regulations are not the answer to this issue. The important issue is food safety and that was established.

Please leave comments, concerns, corrections, or opinions.

Natural and Artificial Wonders

17 01 2011

It never ceases to amaze me how corn can fuel our cars, how one pig can provide for so many piglets, or how a feline can run as fast a car can drive…and the list goes on and on! However, one wonder on my personal list is parthenogenesis. Wondering what in the world this six-syllable word means? I was too. Parthenogenesis is the phenomenon of virgin birth. And here I thought Mary was the only one who didn’t a male to procreate!

Parthenogenesis was discovered (on accident) in turkeys by Olsen and Marsden. Just how many Turkey eggs did they find don’t have to be fertilized to hatch into poults (poult = baby turkey)? Answer: a shocking 14% of Beltsville Small White (BSW) turkeys. Problems with this research: conducted by one scientist on one noncommercial strand of turkey. Today’s research estimates about 4% of broilers are parthenogenic. However, this isn’t a form of reproduction sweeping the poultry world. Most all parthenogenic turkey eggs do not survive past the first three days of incubation because development is unorganized (it has been linked to problems with the imprinting of genes). And because I’m not the expert on this topic, more information on turkey/chicken parthenogenesis can be found here.

Furthermore, it seems animals from other parts of the animal kingdom are even more successful at procreating without males…including some types of fish, several insect varieties, and a handful of frogs/lizards. If you are a scientist, you can make mice successful parthenogenic reproducers too!

For some it is the only method of reproduction and for some parthenogenesis is purely circumstantial. Aphids use it to reproduce rapidly in the spring when food sources are abundant. Komodo dragons refer to this method when sources of males are not abundant…luckily all of their offspring are male which might help future generations of komodo mothers. Also, some species of wasp are forced to reproduce a generation of females in this manner due to a bacterial infection that passes on its own genes through eggs, making male wasps unnecessary and unwanted… at least to the bacteria!

So there you have it, the wonders of nature and what man can do with it is astounding. The same solution benefits species in times of plenty and in times of difficulty. And while there may be a lesson or a solution amongst these facts, one thing is certain: taking males out the equation completely is not always the answer!

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