Thursday, July 24, 2008

Classic Coke Meets Roundup

The New York Times has a fascinating piece on how evolution is constantly happening around us.

Even more fascinating was a link to the U.S. government's cocaine war.

It seems that cocaine plants are becoming resistant to Roundup, our preferred herbicide in Columbia. We follow Joshua Davis as he tries to find out whether genetic engineering or natural selection is at work.

On the way, we get a review of how companies like Monsanto industrialize agriculture by engineering herbicide-resistant soybeans and canola. (I've read elsewhere that the patented strains are bred sterile-- once they've got you hooked...) He finds a geneticist who was offered $10 million by a cartel to do the deed for coke plants.

I hate to spoil the ending because it's such a fine detective story, but the dumb peasants turn out to be smarter than the U.S. and Columbian officials who hold them in such disdain. It seems they sell cuttings of the resistant plant to other farmers, making it another income source from their cash crop.

A crop they claim to have no choice in growing, because the herbicides kill everything except the resistant cocaine.

Davis says the U.S., which understandably doesn't want to advertise the new strain, is quietly trying to convince the Columbian government to switch to "Fusarium oxysporum, a plant-killing fungus classified as a mycoherbicide."

A problem, he notes, because while denying its use in 1999 the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said "mutated fungi can cause disease in a large number of crops, including tomatoes, peppers, flowers, corn, and vines."

It doesn't sound like natural selection, even aided by the peasants, can get around that one.


Boni said...

Sounds interesting enough, just keep the stuff out of our produce until we know for sure. I love that excuse, no choice but to use it on cocaine.

KAP said...

Umm, I've got a lot of info about produce. Been meaning to cobble some of it together.