If you read my post “I’m back!” then you know that I recently finished my thesis. Now that it’s all safely submitted and I can’t make any more changes anyway, I wanted to post parts of the thesis for anyone who might be interested. Here, I’ll start off with the abstract, rationale, and organization scheme. In subsequent posts, I’ll have parts of the introduction and conclusion chapters.

Word cloud for the thesis (excluding citations and figure legends). I like how it looks like an ear of corn.

Continue reading


Corn as art

Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA by John Bollwitt.

We often talk about the science of corn (aka maize) but there’s so much more to it. I’ll be leaving corn country soon to start a new job, and I know I’ll miss being in the center of so much maize.

Consider the natural beauty of a cornfield swaying in a summer breeze, with killdeer and red-winged blackbirds calling amongst the buzzing of grasshoppers.

It’s just a cornfield, but the combination of symmetry and asymmetry from afar and up close, of being in the presence of a plant that has been touched by humans for thousands of years, somehow makes it a very interesting place to be – even when I have many hours of pollinating or harvesting behind and ahead of me.

Continue reading

Biotechnology: communication and politics

I had the pleasure of speaking today with Matthew Nisbet, author of a controversial report about communication of climate change. Matt’s full report Climate Shift is well worth a read, but is a bit daunting at almost 100 pages. Andrew Revkin has an excellent play by play discussing Matt’s report as well as the commentary that has surrounded it: Beyond the Climate Blame Game. There were a lot of interesting ideas discussed at today’s meet and greet but I’ve pulled out a two ideas that are relevant to the discussion of biotechnology.

1) When talking about climate change, if we ever want to accomplish real communication, we need to find the scientists that are in the pragmatic* middle. These scientists in the pragmatic middle are more likely to be able to make themselves understood and are more likely to have things in common with the public in the pragmatic middle.

Does this apply to biotechnology? In some ways, I have to say no. Continue reading

AquAdvantage update

In Risk assessment and mitigation of AquAdvantage salmon I discussed exactly what Aqua Bounty was asking permission from the FDA to do, as well as the environmental, animal welfare, and human health concerns associated with the AquAvantage fish in comparison to non-transgenic farmed salmon.

The Center for Food Safety has a “new” document to bring to the discussion: an opinion (pdf) written by the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal about ocean net pens to raise finfish off the coast of Maine that was written in 2003. CFS talks about this letter in a blog post titled Newly Disclosed Government Documents Conclude GE Salmon Pose A Critical Threat To Marine Environments. Let’s just say there’s a few errors in the reasoning found in the blog post and indeed all over the GFS site about genetically engineered fish. Here, I’ll go over the blog post (I’ll let our excellent commenters take a look at the rest of the site) and discuss some of the errors.

Continue reading

Risk assessment and mitigation of AquAdvantage salmon

Miso glazed Atlantic salmon by ulterior epicure via Flickr.

Aqua Bounty Technologies, Inc. has recently applied for deregulation of AquAdvantage salmon — salmon that have been genetically engineered to grow faster than wild-type salmon. These salmon have the potential benefit of providing high-quality animal protein without putting additional pressure on declining wild fish stocks.

However, these salmon present some potential risks that warrant examination. First, effects on the health and welfare of the animals must be determined. Second, if genetically engineered salmon were to escape and become established in the wild, native salmon populations or other aspects of the ecosystem could be adversely affected. Third, this genetically engineered trait or some part of the development or rearing process might have health consequences for consumers. These risks must be fully addressed before deregulation can be considered.

Continue reading