Genetically Modified Food is the Future, says Nicholas Negroponte
Is the end near? Recent studies by KPMG, the UK Government Office of Science, and now the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center claim that civilization is headed toward converging catastrophes that will hit deeply in the next 15 years or so. Time to invest in that doomsday compound. Could genetically engineered food help stem off this threat?
Nicholas Negroponte, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, as well as the founder of the One Laptop per Child Association, seems to think so. Negroponte spoke to Big Think about the transformative power of technology and how it can help feed the world in a sustainable way. Grazing livestock, for instance, puts stress on the environment; since the 1970s, the Amazon rainforest lost an area the size of California to deforestation, driven in large part by making room for cattle. We need these trees to absorb the excess CO2 warming up our atmosphere.
As Negroponte points out, genetically modified food, or GMOs, could take some of the pressure off:
"In the food department you could argue that genetics is their equivalent of [digital] bits and that you can create meat synthetically from the genes of meat. In other words you can do artificial meat. People are doing it at the moment. So, you know, just a tiny sample of a pig can make tons and tons of pork. That’s pretty amazing. You don’t have to have the fields and the grass and the grazing and the water. You can start doing this and it’s not artificial in the sense of it’s soybean-made to look like turkey. It’s actually genetically porterhouse steak…So as things like that come out of the labs and go into the world you can see a world that is nourished in a very different way than we do it today.”
GMOs of course are the subject of a fierce debate. Opponents worry that they are harmful to our health and the environment. But Negroponte argues that they are safe and crucial to fighting climate change:
“Generally people have given up on climate change as happening through restraint and regulation and sort of believe now the answer’s going to be technical, and one of the technical solutions is to manufacture food. And when people talk about genetically modified food being wrong, they’re nuts. What are they thinking of? All food should be genetically modified and will be more and more so. And that’s again like arguing against digital libraries or electronic books. Genetically modified food is the future and it’s a very important future."
For more on Negroponte’s discussion, watch this clip from Big Think’s interview:
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- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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