(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
In an attempt to make large-scale farming easier, and corner the seed markets, Monsanto inadvertently engineered “Round-Up-resistant weeds.”
Roundup – originally made by Monsanto but now also sold by others under the generic name glyphosate – has been little short of a miracle chemical for farmers. It kills a broad spectrum of weeds, is easy and safe to work with, and breaks down quickly, reducing its environmental impact.
Sales took off in the late 1990s, after Monsanto created its brand of Roundup Ready crops that were genetically modified to tolerate the chemical, allowing farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed. Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.
But farmers sprayed so much Roundup that weeds quickly evolved to survive it. “What we’re talking about here is Darwinian evolution in fast-forward,” Mike Owen, a weed scientist at Iowa State University, said.
Sowing the seeds of one’s own destruction does not take that long.
The weed-killer Round-Up is a powerful agent of selection against our distant leafy cousins. Monsanto’s brilliant idea was to genetically engineer crops that were resistant to Round-Up, so only the natural, non-engineered weeds would die, and leave crops standing. It worked. Round-Up was relatively safe and quickly bio-degradable, and it saved lots of manual labor, motorized cultivation, fuel, and even topsoil. You can learn more about some of the different types of topsoil out there by reading this useful guide titled ‘what is topsoil?’. However, put simply, topsoil refers to the nutrient-rich, mineral-dense top layer of soil on the ground. Moreover, the innovation also allowed Monsanto to capture most of the seed markets, turning the US crops into giant mono-cultures having far less genetic variation.
Of course, not all weeds are the same. Genetic variation within and between species allowed some plants to survive the round-up, leaving successive generations to preferentially pass along their Round-Up resistant genes. Directional selection for Round-Up resistant super-weeds was virtually inevitable, just as the excessive use of anti-biotics created anti-biotic resistant bacteria that are becoming increasingly difficult to manage in hospitals.
(Indeed, anti-biotic resistant bacteria are used purposely and routinely for generating genetic material in cloning technology. Like round-up resistant crops, anti-biotic resistant bacteria containing specific genetic scripts can be grown in large quantities like crops, then purified of “weeds,” the undesirable bacteria that grows incidentally, by application of anti-biotics, leaving your favored bacterial, DNA-generating machines intact to run off copies of your desired DNA like a roomful of Xerox machines.)
The New York Times has some cool interactive maps showing the spread of round-up resistant weeds in the US over the past 10 years. Wow.
Of course, a key argument against monoculture seeds is that they reduce and displace genetic variations in crops that could be essential to their survival against unpredictable crop diseases. Now, we have large, fragile monocultures and Round-Up resistant super-weeds. So much for Round-Up.
“[Round-Up-resistance] is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.
Darwin shoots, scores! Shoots, scores! Etc. Evolution is the universal acid:
“it eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized world-view, with most of the old landmarks still recognizable, but transformed in fundamental ways.”