Saturday, September 6, 2014

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

The article is:

Grow-in-the-dark plants could spark the next Green Revolution 

Pretty much everything in this article annoys me. Science is awesome and glorious, but this is just one more example in a line of many ways we try to stick wads of gum in the holes of a wall that is gushing water and threatening to explode. Let us begin ...

The new Green Revolution might look a little like this: peach orchards heavy with fruit in the middle of January, dense rows of corn flourishing in sandbox-sized plots, and grocers stocking persimmons in the heat of summer.

Sounds amazing, right? Who wouldn't want that? Solve all the problems, right?

And it might start with the phytochrome – a crucial light-sensing molecule that tells plants when to germinate, grow, make food, flower and age. Scientists have mapped and manipulated the phytochrome's structure, aiming to alter the conditions under which plants grow and develop. Eventually, they want to insert these modified phytochromes into plants to trick them into growing, and bearing seeds and fruit – even when they're not supposed to.

"Manipulating." See, that's where it goes wonky for me. It can only be considered hubris to think we can improve upon Nature. "Trick"? Since when is it a good idea to "trick" Nature?

"We hope to create a toolkit of phytochromes that can eventually be used to control agriculture – how plants grow, when they flower, when they die," said Richard Vierstra, a plant geneticist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

"Control." Yeah, also such a good idea. Trying to control Nature.

Vierstra and his colleagues have only just begun making these mutants and inserting them into the sprightly mustard weed ...

Anyone else have a problem with the word, mutant? Let's see what else they want to do.

Plants "don't like" cramped conditions. "We have to engineer plants so they do like being grown that way…. There really is a need to re-engineer the phytochrome system."

No, no there really isn't. There is no need to do that.

Scientists could even trick phytochromes into ignoring growing seasons. The ratio of active to inactive phytochromes reflects the hours of day and night, indicating the time of year, which, in turn, tells plants when to sprout, flower, fruit or go to seed. But researchers could, for example, insert plants with phytochromes that stay active all year. 

What could possibly go wrong?

... it sounds so crazy it just might work. But when contending with a swelling population and shrinking arable lands, a no-holds barred approach might be exactly what's needed.

No, it just sounds crazy. Here's what else is crazy: realizing and stating that we are facing shrinking arable land, and calling the manipulation of Nature the right thing to do, instead of the obvious answer of not letting the population swell beyond what is sustainable! We are not sustainable now! We will be even less so at 8 billion. A no-holds barred approach? How about not needing to get to that point? How about that whole "arable land" issue? Science for the sake of science much? We live in a society of ignoring the cause of of the disease and instead scrambling to come up with little helps for the symptoms. That is exactly and all this is, and it cannot end well. Remember the commercial from the '70s, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." It's really not. In that case, ironically, they replaced her butter with some crap-chemical margarine made in a lab. She was not amused. She won't be now, either. That I can promise.

I am all for science. I love science. Science is awesome. But this is not progress. This is hurtling with eyes wide open into disaster. And don't insult me by couching it in "green revolution." I'm not falling for it.