Friday, October 17, 2014

What Breeding has Done to the Plants We Eat

Chemistry teacher James Kennedy created these great graphics that show how much breeding has changed our main crops. Above, peaches, and below, watermelon.


G. Verloren said...

I love the "Natural" and "Artificial" monikers on those images.

Strictly speaking they're accurate, in that cultivated crops, by dint of being cultivated, are technically of human "artifice".

But everything we touch is the product of human "artifice". Every tool we craft, every plant we grow, every animal we raise, every thing or object we find and put to our own uses is "artificial". We ourselves, having been shaped by our own actions and choices, are "artificial" organisms. And were we to apply the term to forms of artifice carried out by other animals, we could surely call them and their various developments in rudimentary tools or clever behaviors "artificial" as well.

And yet, the common modern usage of the term "artificial" suggests more the meaning of "synthetic" - made by chemical synthesis to imitate a natural object; being a fascimile, or a false reproduction of something else. Most people, when they hear the term "artificial" - particularly when used opposite the phrase "natural" - will immediately think this way.

Which makes me wonder why Mr. Kennedy chose this specific word. Is he purposefully invoking the common "synthetic" meaning of the term, and all the additional baggage it carries with it? Is he using it in the sadly less common, but far more accurate usage of having been the product of human artifice? Why did he not use terms like "Wild" and "Cultivated" in place of "Natural" and "Artificial"?

Ahh, science, history, and language. How I love the weirdness of their meeting!

pootrsox said...

I believe the professor wants to emphasize that *all* the food we eat is GMO-- that everything in our pantries and refrigerators has been genetically modified since its first discovery as edible by humans.

G. Verloren said...


Ahh, that would make sense.

"GMO" is the new "radiation" - a widely misunderstood concept that frightens people because they don't understand it.

"Cell phones and computer monitors and power lines give off radiation! Bananas are radioactive! We're all gonna die of mutant nuclear cancers!"

"This food has been genetically modified! If I eat it, it will modify my genes!"