Review: Tomorrow’s Table

While I was in the process of applying for graduate school, in late 2006, I was chasing down a letter of recommendation from my former boss, and somehow, the conversation turned to a book he was asked to proof-read. That book, a year and a half later, was to be published as Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming and the Future of Food, by Pamela Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak. Pamela Ronald is a rice geneticist and genetic engineer, the chair of the plant genomics program at UC Davis, now also the Director of Grass Genetics at the Joint Bioenergy Research Institute in Emeryville. (She is also a former professor of mine.) The second author, Raoul, is an organic farmer, who runs the UC Davis Student Farm‘s Market Garden, a stone’s throw from where I used to garden in Davis.

When I first heard about it in production, I couldn’t wait to read this book, because I knew what it would be about, an idea that both Pam and Raoul have promoted and embody in their lives. You see, Pam and Raoul are married, and they think Organic Agriculture and Genetic Engineering should be, too. Continue reading Review: Tomorrow’s Table

It’s spreading!

I’ve got two more genetic engineering blogs to add to my blogroll. The first is called GMO Food for Thought, and is run by C.S. Prakash, AgBioWorld founder. He maintains a declaration in support of Agricultural Biotechnology at his site, and there are over 3,400 signers of this list. (Although I can’t seem to navigate past the first page of signers.)

The second is Malaysia4Biotech, another blog popping up overseas, which has already started churning out the posts. Author Mahaletchumy Arujanan opens with the big Why for blogging about biotech:

The 21st century is hailed as the century of biological sciences, particularly biotechnology which is revolutionizing all aspects of our lifestyles from food to agriculture, environment, industry, and healthcare and medicine. Biotechnology is changing the terrains and landscapes of these fields to enhance the quality of life and environment. Countries are racing to embrace this powerful tool to create wealth though innovation. Malaysia is not spared as the government has pledged it strong commitments to develop this sector. Continue reading It’s spreading!

Contrast these two debates

Previously, I engaged in a discussion with someone who helped put on an anti-evolution event in Florida. He came on displaying classic trollish behavior, and as soon as I pointed him out on that, he laid out some of his arguments. Following that, I responded to the arguments in kind. The discussion trailed off, and at least one thing was resolved. A couple people chimed into what was primarily a debate between John and myself.

Contrast it to this recent discussion, just finished, between Bonnie (and Walter) at The Ethicurean and myself. As I mentioned previously, Bonnie posted an interview with anti-GE activist and lawyer, Claire Hope Cummings. I immediately responded by pointing out that the interview was riddled with factual errors and one glaring logical fallacy employing a form of linguistic bias. How did this one turn out? Continue reading Contrast these two debates

Cummings uninformed about biology

Over at the Ethicurean, Bonnie posted an interview with Claire Hope Cummings, that I think bears examination. Cummings is the author of the book Uncertain Peril: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Seeds, and goes on to make several ghastly claims. Not only factual errors, but really fallacious reasoning as well. I left a lengthy comment over there, but I will reproduce it here with some of the text of the interview. Continue reading Cummings uninformed about biology

Hey that’s my gene!

Ariela and I were picking up a weird tomato plant at the nursery the other day, and I wanted to see if I could find some pole bean seeds. While I was searching the seed racks (unsuccessfully), Ariela noticed a seed package with a bright red ear of corn on it. I remember reading about a new variety of red sweet corn several years ago, it looks like they’ve finally made seeds available for it! I bought them and sprouted them right away – they’re ready to go in the ground tonight for some late-season sweet corn. But that’s not the best part. It’s got my gene. Continue reading Hey that’s my gene!

Pollination Methods – Corn

As I have mentioned on this blog before, in addition to my research on locating a gene in sweet corn, I’m making some educational videos on plant breeding. Well, now I’m proud to be able to show you the first in a whole series of them that I’m putting together. With help from my adviser, two film dudes at the Instructional Media Development Center at UW-Madison, and big bags of doubloons from the USDA. Over the past week, I’ve been updating the Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics Program website, and now it has full video functionality. So armed with the plant breeding website powered by a wordpress platform, I give you the how-to on making controlled pollinations with Zea mays – How to breed corn.

You could actually do this in your own backyard using this system, or if you’re running a breeding company or academic lab and need to train employees on how to do this in the field – here’s what you need to succeed with your breeds.

Video below the fold. Continue reading Pollination Methods – Corn

Now I get it!

Corn ethanol is inefficient, and isn’t the best for the environment. It’s also pretty much all we have for ethanol biofuel production right now. There’s some talk that corn ethanol is a bad idea (I disagree for infrastructure reasons) right now, in part because it is affecting food prices. Corn for ethanol raises demand for corn, raising the price of corn. More land planted for corn means less for soybeans – so the price of soybeans goes up and people tear down more trees to make room for soybean fields in South America. People start switching to other grains to feed their animals and make their foods, such as wheat. Price of wheat goes up. Well guess which farmers are finding it more profitable to plant wheat? Continue reading Now I get it!

Food prices are complex

Previously, I addressed the give and take of food prices. Pam Ronald at Tomorrow’s Table also adds to the discussion:

In an editorial this week in the NYT, Paul Krugman places part of the blame for rising food prices on biofuels: “We need to pushback against biofuels that turns out to have been a terrible mistake.” But this conclusion is premature and overly simplistic.

Whether biofuels offer carbon savings depends on how they are produced. If we destroy rainforests and grasslands to plant food crop–based biofuels, then Krugman is right. This would be a terrible mistake. (…) Continue reading Food prices are complex