Thursday, August 17, 2006

Designer Strains of Grass

First, read this:

Over the past two decades, New Zealand scientists have been working on designer strains of grass that could one day be used to keep birds away from golf courses and airports. Apparently the right combinations of grass and endophytes fungi would produce turf with unique properties.

Insects can't eat these grasses, which deprives some birds of their food source. They are also toxic and can give grass-eating birds an illness the researchers call "post-ingestion malaise".
Next, read this:
A genetically modified grass designed to improve golf courses and lawns has caused alarm in the US after escaping into the wild. Creeping bentgrass, Agrostis stolonifera, has spread up to three miles outside a test site in Oregon with nine different plants being identified.
It seems to me that the risk of contaminating our fields, farms, and wilderness with a grass that insects can’t eat, and that sickens birds, outweighs the societal benefits of cleaner golf courses. I’ll go a step further and suggest that if al-Qaeda were experimenting with plants like this one, we’d consider it grounds for concern or worse.

In related news, a judge has ruled that the USDA broke the law by planting a pharmaceutical-producing plant across Hawai’i:
Citing possible harm to Hawai’i's 329 endangered and threatened species, a federal district judge has ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in permitting the cultivation of drug-producing, genetically engineered crops throughout Hawai’i. The court found that USDA acted in "utter disregard" of the ESA, and also violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), by failing to conduct even preliminary investigations prior to its approval of the plantings.
At Grist, David Roberts makes an essential point about the political economy of risk assessment:
Consider Dick Cheney's celebrated One Percent Doctrine, which says that even a 1% chance of catastrophic terrorist attack should prompt us to respond as though it were a certainty.

Well, the chances of catastrophic damage from global warming are a hell of a lot higher than 1%. So ...
Indeed. Would anyone care to speculate on the odds that conventional crops or native plants will be contaminated with a medicinal, hyperallergenic, or otherwise deleterious GE strain?

Bearing in mind, of course, that it’s already happened.


Anonymous said...

How much were these New Zealand scientists paid to kill our birds and the insects they feed on? They create new strains of grass just so club-swingers can enjoy a good game of golf without the "pests". Shame on you.

JMS said...

Scientific progress such as this is why apocalyptic cranks like myself run around unkemptly with a hand lettered sign warning of the impending end of the world.

Engineer-Poet said...

It's probably an improvement compared to pesticide runoff.

Not that I think golf courses are less than disasters anyway.

juniper pearl said...

how much trouble could the birds and bugs have been causing that someone would weigh the pros and cons of this plan and give it the thumbs up? if it were my golf course (as if i would ever have a golf course), the birds would have to have turned it into a hitchcockian deathscape before i'd be willing to hear this pitch to the end. and probably not even then. no, definitely not even then.