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  RE: [Aroid-l] Plants that glow in the dark.
From: "Horak, David" davidhorak at bbg.org> on 2006.09.26 at 15:57:34(14654)
Title: Message


For a very long
time I poo pooed or at least ignored the issues of genetic manipulation
except for a minor morbid fascination with the technology and our developing
ability to do such things. Jurassic Park was entertaining reading. As time has
gone on I am beginning to realize that almost any point of view that I seem to
have is not seeing a bigger picture. Genetic manipulation sounds evil because it
is perceived as not natural. The reality is that most of the world we know is no
longer "natural". I will propose the concept that the use of genetic
technologies very well could have profound benefits for species and the

For example, working
at a botanic garden we have worked hard to minimize our use of pesticides and
fungicides and try to use the most benign solutions to manage pest issues. But,
as you all know, the reality is that plants evolve to exist in the
conditions of their native environments with specific conditions of light,
water, controlling pests and pests that control the pests, etc.. Balance. In
artificial conditions this is often not the case. The need to use chemicals to
artificially sustain balance are at times necessary. Here we can use
restraint, but in the commercial horticultural world this is often not the case.
The worst offenders statistically are the home owners and amateurs who may
purchase chemicals at the garden center or home depot that we in at the garden
are not allowed to use even if we wanted to. The profound use of chemicals in
commercial contexts is disturbing, but at least most commercial folks now will
carefully use a specific chemical targeted to a pest or pathogen because it
makes economic sense. Its expensive. However, the typical homeowner trying to
deal with their lawn or roses or trees rarely sends samples to identify a
specific pest or pathogen. Chemicals are used willy nilly in the hope the
shotgun approach will take care of the weird bug on the tomatoes. The
totals for all uses in New York State alone this is tens of thousands of
tons of chemicals. It is really frightening.

So hypothetically,
(removing the controversial application of genetically modified fruits and
vegetables from the argument) what if cultivars of popular ornamental tropicals
could be produced that are resistant to fungal diseases or specific pests, and
at the same time limited by programmed sterility? I am talking about
those millions of plants that are produced that have no chance of impacting on
native ecosystems. Even this relatively small reduction in chemicals not going
into the environment and the ground water might have tremendous
impact to the areas of south Florida and Texas alone. We are not
talking species. Think pot plant orchids and

Even in the context
of fruits and vegetables. Our ability to have berries, fruits and vegetables at
any time of the year comes with the high price of the widespread and
indiscriminant use of pesticides in other parts of the world that we have banned
here. They effectively kill the pests and also kill off the pollinators for
their native plants (and probably amphibians and other things as well). My major
focus is orchids, and my friends in Ecuador increasingly comment on how the
insects are gone. There are plenty of orchids in the wild where viable, even
disturbed habitats exist, but increasingly there is little fruit set on the
plants-few if any pollinators. If protected these plants may
live for decades but these plants are now being referred to as living fossils.

If genetically
altered plants could eliminate the use of pesticides or produce grains that are
higher in protein or able to survive in drought conditions in impoverished
countries, which is the greater evil? Could genetic manipulation be a
conservation tool? Prevent cancer clusters? I certainly don't know. We might be
opening Pandora's box just a little bit more. The point is, the small step
of playing with a very identifiable characteristic such as bioluminescence could
lead to knowledge and techniques that might lead to more profound benefits.
Perhaps a Frankenstein poinsettia could save a rare aroid. Who


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