Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 8, 2012
Sounding like a bad anti-drug campaign, I came across a story that purported to tell the public about a mass killing related to “killer grass”. Now before any of our reefer friends start writing in about the benefits of cannabis or before your mom’s throw out your stash, the kind of grass in question is not the recreational kind but the MOO kind…that is prairie type grass killed some grazing cattle; or so the story goes.
An added twist to the story, as if killer grass was not enough, is the claim that the grass turned to homicide because it was genetically modified. The variety in question, Tifton 85, was developed to be more nutritious and remain digestible longer than ‘normal’ Bermuda grass. It was developed in 1983 and was used on the field in question for more than 15 years. It had apparently started to produce “cyanide gas” which poisoned the cattle killing about 15 of them.
Within moments the internet was awash of articles claiming that GM grass suddenly turned deadly and that proved we should not ‘play god’ and stop genetic modification because it would inevitably lead to monsters and no among to testing could prove otherwise; look it took this grass 15 years to turn bad. On the surface this may be a reasonable assumption. I have mentioned myself that although I am all for GMO, I also don’t trust corporations to self-regulate; that it is in the lack of proper oversight that something like killer grass could happen.
Then of course I put on my skeptic cap and looked at the whole thing again.
Now, the article quoted was from a local CBS station and not from a more reputable source…sorry CBS. Next, it stated the preliminary cause of death was cyanide gas…so it may not have been cyanide at all. And it struck me as kinda weird that this grass was okay for over 30 years and this is the first instance of poisoning. Okay, I say 30 years now because the Tilford 85 has been grown since the 80s although this field has only had the grass since the late 90s. I did a little research and found out this was NOT the first case of cyanide poisoning of grazing animals. In fact, it occurs regularly every 3 to 5 years or so.
The other case though did not involve Tifton 85 or any kind of GM grass at all. The most consistent culprit was Johnson grass. I found out that cyanide is a common plant defence against predation, although usually only in quantities to harm small insects and slugs. However, under times of stress like the drought that is currently enveloping farmland across the continent, cyanide production increases and becomes more concentrated in the plant. Let’s not forget either that cows eat A LOT of grass, magnifying the dosage even more.
So, it seems that it was cyanide but as a natural defence of plants that happens occasionally, not the result of some genetic horror story. Of course it gets better. The original article, and the ones plastered around the internet, said the Tifton 85 was a GM plant…and it is kinda. It is old school GM where you take two plants, give them some drinks and nice music and let them cross pollinate. It’s referred to as a F1 hybrid. So, at least in the way we picture Genetic modified organisms, it doesn’t even qualify on this account.
So, complete debunking of the story that mutant GM grass kills, but with headlines like:
You know you’re going to hear people bring this up as evidence that we should stop ‘playing god’ with nature. Well, like god, this story is fiction.
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: Bermuda Grass, cattle, cyanide gas, Debunk, GM, gmo, hybrid, Hydrogen cyanide, Johnson grass, killer grass, Tilfton 85 | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 26, 2012
- Defrocking women,
- Romans in Japan,
- Super human mutants,
- Killer grass,
- Who killed the Avro Arrow?
Download the episode here!
In recent planned changes to Canon law, the Pope is equating paedophiles with anyone who tries to ordain women priests.
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Romans in Japan
A recent discovery in a 5th century Japanese tomb showed trade between Rome and Japan.
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Super human mutants
In a recent experiment, researches have discover a woman with super human vision thanks to mutated genes that causes colour-blindness in men.
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A recent new story has swept the internet about how apparently a genetically modified grass turned into a cow killer, really?
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Who killed the Avro Arrow
Ethan discusses the circumstance around the demise of Canada’s famous cutting edge Avro Arrow fighter jet as well as the conspiracy theories arising out of this cancellation.
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Avro Arrow Promotional Video 1957(?)
1997 news spot on the Avro Arrow from CBC’s The National
Walk for Peace
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Walk for Peace march. In 1982, 35,000 people marched from Kitsilano to the West End calling for world peace. By 1984, the march had grown to 100,000 people. Keeping with the Humanist commitment to global peace, BC Humanist Association invites you to join them in the walk to help raise their banner and the humanist commitment to peace, respect and a civil society
When: Saturday, June 30 at Noon Where: Sunset Beach or meet up at the Sunset Grill around 11:50 am Cost: Free
Humanist Brunch for Peace?
The BC Humanist Association doesn’t want to you walk on empty stomachs, so before the march, they are planning to meet at the Sunset Grill for brunch at 10:00 am. Afterward, they will join the march which departs at noon and wraps up at 2pm at Sunset Beach for entertainment, music, and celebration.
Please RSVP if you plan to join them for brunch (so they can confirm our reservation) RSVPs close on Wednesday, June 27th.
When: Saturday, June 30 at 10:00 am Where: Sunset Grill (Yew and York Street) Cost: Whatever you order off the menu
The Conference Dedicated to Science and Skeptical Inquiry. Put on by Skeptical Inquirer and CFI this conference takes place October 25th to 28th in Nashville, Tennessee. The conference includes speakers like PZ Myers, Eugenie Scott, the cast of the Skeptics guide to the universe and more.
Find out more here.
Posted in Show notes | Tagged: Avro Arrow, bio-defence, canon law, colour blindness, colour vision, cyanide gas, defrocked, female priests, genetically modified food, GM, gmo, John Diefenbaker, killer grass, paedophilia, Roman Catholic Church, Rome, silk road, super human mutants, The Pope | 2 Comments »
Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 27, 2010
Today I am going to share with you all a news item I heard on a trip to Winnipeg on the CBC. The spot I heard was about Christian Bok and his new work “the Xenotext Experiment”.
As our loyal listeners may remember we discussed earlier this year Craig Venter and his development of ‘synthetic life’. This processes involved, if I may use imagery for fact, using a kind of ink jet printer to ‘print’ a DNA nucleus. The Xenotext experiment is parallel to this work but takes it a different direction.
In Christian Bok’s abstract, he mentioned that cybernetic expert Pak Wong et all, has already encoded into the DNA of a bacteria the song lyrics to “It’s a Small World After All”. It is Bok’s plan to encode into extremophile Deinococcus radiodurans, a line of poetry. For those who don’t know what an extremophile is, it is a branch of life that has learned to live in the most extreme environments; these include boiling waters near geysers or thermal vents, in extremely salty water like the Dead sea, in the cooling tanks of nuclear waste…if it’s a place you’re sure life could not possible exist, an extremophile lives there. The idea, from what I have read, is that he is using the DNA as a form of cryptograph or code with three base pairs equalling one English letter; from that he will encode a complete poem. Further, he plans to encode some DNA that will produce proteins that will contain its own encoded poem snippet. The plan with creating protein poetry is that as the organism evolves, this protein will also evolve and in doing so will change the poem. The DNA he is adding or changing is not the important ‘active’ genes but the ‘junk DNA’.
He states that “the genome can now become a “vector” for heretofore unimagined modes of artistic innovation and cultural expression. In the future, genetics might lend a possible, literary dimension to biology, granting every geneticist the power to become a poet in the medium of life.”
I think this is interesting in three ways; first, some people were worried with regards to the ‘synthetic life experiment’ that we would create a monster like Dr. Frankenstein did. I don’t think so but because the purpose of this genetic manipulation is independent of its actual function it is possible. He hopes to avoid these issues by focusing on ‘junk DNA’ but as I head in a resent podcast on NPR, to geneticist there is no such thing as ‘junk’ DNA, only DNA we have yet to understand its function.
Second, one of the technical people on Bok’s project is a Stuart Kauffman, a geneticist, who believes life is complex but predisposed to order; that there is an underlying tendency to self-order. I worry that if this experiment is successful and we have bacteria composing sonnets that the intelligent Design nuts will take this a proof of the hand of ‘god’?
Lastly, and the part I found most exciting, is the potential for the extension of both human culture but also knowledge. If this experiment works well and the encoded poem has an indefinite life; that is the information encoded in the genome is extractable as long as the species exists. Think of what this could mean when we look beyond poetry. As Ethan and other students of history know, throughout our past, humanity has on several occasions taken it into it collective mind to destroy its own reservoirs of knowledge; be it the destruction of the library of Alexandria the sacking of Rome or the book burnings in 1950’s United States. Now we could have the potential to ensure human knowledge is next to impossible to lose. Imagine encoding the complete library of Congress in an extremophile? As long as that life existed knowledge exists. Even if an asteroid hit the planet and reset life as it did with the dinosaurs, whatever intelligence that arose in our place could retrieve that knowledge…extremophile are even believed to be a source of exogenesis…imagine one of encoded extremophiles being hurtled into space as part of some meteor and landing on fertile soil in some distant solar system giving rise to a who new biosphere, and earth 2 if you will…life with knowledge literally in its genes…
But enough of my flights of fancy, what do you think about the “literary genetics”?
Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: Bok, Genetics, GM, immortality, Poetry, science | 1 Comment »