Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Food Irradiation and Agriculture

From the New York Times:

Pierre Lagoda pulled a small container from his pocket and spilled the contents onto his desk. Four tiny dice rolled to a stop.

“That’s what nature does,” Dr. Lagoda said. The random results of the dice, he explained, illustrate how spontaneous mutations create the genetic diversity that drives evolution and selective breeding.

He rolled the dice again. This time, he was mimicking what he and his colleagues have been doing quietly around the globe for more than a half-century — using radiation to scramble the genetic material in crops, a process that has produced valuable mutants like red grapefruit, disease-resistant cocoa and premium barley for Scotch whiskey.

“I’m doing the same thing,” he said, still toying with the dice. “I’m not doing anything different from what nature does. I’m not using anything that was not in the genetic material itself.”

Dr. Lagoda, the head of plant breeding and genetics at the International Atomic Energy Agency, prides himself on being a good salesman. It can be a tough act, however, given wide public fears about the dangers of radiation and the risks of genetically manipulated food. His work combines both fields but has nonetheless managed to thrive.

The process leaves no residual radiation or other obvious marks of human intervention. It simply creates offspring that exhibit new characteristics.
For more, see the section on Food and Agriculture on the NEI Web site.


gunter said...

"You seek for knowledge and wisdom, as I once did; and I ardently hope that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been."

Mary Shelly

Stewart Peterson said...

Ah, of the most anti-technology books in existence.

If only you were legally allowed to burn down all the university nuclear engineering departments in the US. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Matthew66 said...

Mary Shelly was a rather gifted novelist, and her monster was completely fictional.

In the real world, genetically modified organisms mean that more people have access to disease free food that has been exposed to fewer pesticides. Those who decry the beneficial effects of radiation are effectively arguing that we should return to the nineteenth and prior centuries, when most children died before reaching their fourth birthday, and cities were dependent upon migration in from the countryside to sustain their populations as the urban mortality rate was much greater than the urban birth rate.

I am fortunate to live in an age when I can drink water without fear of cholera, eat raw produce without much fear of botulism, salmonella or pesticide poisoning. If Gunter wants to live a primitive lifestyle, good luck to him, perhaps we'll be relieved of his contributions to this blog when he gives up his computer. (BTW Gunter aren't you scared of the radiation from your computer monitor?) The vast majority of the world's population want to enjoy the benefits of modern technology, including those associated with nuclear technology.

Anonymous said...

Imagine how history might have been different if the technology had existed during Mary Shelly's lifetime. The Irish Potato Famine might have been averted.

Anonymous said...

Yep, better give up on those other technological innovations, too. Things like the wheel, the lever, refined metals, medicines, plastics, electricity, computers, aircraft, geez, it's just too dangerous. Never know what kind of MONSTERS (ahhhhhh!) those might spawn.