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.For more, see the section on Food and Agriculture on the NEI Web site.
“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.