In our efforts to understand and deal with Mother Nature, we have invented, engineered, and manipulated her in ways that often produce unexpected results. There is currently a drought in the Midwest that is devastating small farmers all across the Plains. In fact, the experts are saying that it is the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. The difference this time, however, is that genetically engineered crops are still squeaking through. You see, by altering the gene make-up of our food, companies like Monsanto have been able to engineer corn that can resist insects and continue to thrive on much smaller amounts of water.
The skeptics might be asking, “What happens when you mess with Mother Nature,” and, not unlike my daily diet of unrelated pharmaceuticals, we know that there may be ramifications, but we don’t know exactly what those effects might be. For example, we know for sure that if you take five pills a day for different ailments, there is a 100% chance that they will interact with each other. What we don’t know, because they were made by different manufacturers to address different ailments is what that interaction may be.
Recently, a friend of mine posted a photo of the vascularization of the heart, and it was placed beside another photo of the Amazon River water basin. To the untrained eye, the complex network of the blood vessels of the heart looked exactly like the map of the river’s connecting creeks and streams. In fact, a few years ago I saw a presentation by a radiologist who had read over 1,000,000 mammograms. He was also an amateur botanist, and for every image that he showed depicting a malignancy, he had a corresponding image of flower and plant formations in nature that was almost indiscernible from the cancers, an ironic contrast of the beauty and cruelty of Nature.
A further exploration of this inner connectedness was the recent story on NPR about an Italian wine maker, a microbiologist, Duccio Cavalieri, who had clarified the connecting by which insects ( in this case a wasp) transfer yeast from their guts onto wine grapes. This wasp yeast then shares in the fermenting of the wine. This interconnectedness explains some of the centuries old complexities in taste in the wines from Chianti. In fact, since the Roman era, vineyard owners knew that their wines would be impacted by planting flowers around the vineyards.
The story elaborated on the concerns of Ann Pringle, an Evolutionary Biologist at Harvard, related to the unintended penalties of a smaller amount of species diversity once that diversity is lost. In other words, the yeast from the wasps digestive juices makes the wine taste amazing. If a wasp biting into a grape can change the taste of your wine, what happens when you change Mother Nature’s corn by genetic engineering?
Ironically, one of the things that happens is that the corn stalks on this altered corn become bigger, stronger and tougher than regular corn. In fact, the corn stalks are so strong that, once they are cut down at the end of the growing season, they literally rip into the tractor tires as they drive over them. Consequently, the tractors with eight tires that average about $1000 each are taking a real beating when they drive through these Super Corn fields. This has resulted in tire manufacturers and post- manufacturers hardeng the rubber and, in fact, adding Kevlar to them, the stuff from which they make bullet proof vests.
So, we feed our cows, pigs and chickens genetic corn, kill the wasps by spraying them, and place bullet proof vest materials inside our tires. It seemed so much simpler when all we had to do as kids was to hang out with farmers where we could eat, drink and enjoy Mother Nature’s best any day of the week. Little did we know.