Nature Other

Bomb-sniffing flowers

Scientists in Denmark, the US and Canada have all been working on producing a genetically-engineered plant whose flowers will come up red instead of white in the presence of underground explosives. The idea, of course, is that you can use them to to test for the presence of landmines by dropping the seeds from the air and seeing what colour the flowers are when they come up.

Apart from the benefits if the technology works (and the rampant symbolism), this is the kind of project that the genetic engineers needed to come up with at the start of the technology to help sell it to the public. It would take a very hard person, however suspicious they were of science, to oppose a cheap new mine-detection technology.

Instead, of course, despite all the publicity about how GM products were going to end third-world hunger, reinvigorate medicine and who knows what else, the first major products were herbicide-resistent crops, allowing farmers to use even more toxic chemicals in the quest for ever-more intensive crop production. Personally I think that most of the opposition to GM food is incoherent, illogical and based entirely on prejudice, but I still can’t feel very positive about Round-up Ready soybeans.

via Metafilter; photo from and presumably ©

2 replies on “Bomb-sniffing flowers”

Wow, what an astounding development!

I suppose you’re right about some of the opposition to GM foods. But I think the prinicipled stand of farmers like Jose Bove and his supporters is based not on fears of possible adverse health effects, but on a well-founded paranoia that the widespread use of GM crops further increases dependency on a few agribiz giants.

I take the point, but I don’t think it’s a straightforwardly GM issue, or that that’s what has caught the public’s imagination. For example, all UK supermarkets stopped using GM products in their own-label foods. That was because of tabloid headlines about ‘Frankenstein foods’, rather than any thoughts about agribusiness.

The whole direction of intensive agriculture tends to run against what both environmentalists and foodies would like, simply because it prioritises productivity over either the environment or flavour. That’s not really a GM thing.

Protests against globalisation, capitalism, and agribusiness are a whole different subject again. I don’t think Bové would have picked out GM food as a key issue to hang his argument on if it wasn’t an emotive issue.

I’m enough of a foodie, an environmentalist and a localist to be uneasy about industrialised agriculture, but I think opposing all genetic engineering in principle risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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