Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Not that human weeds is a new genomic concept, but Japanese researchers at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences have successfully inserted a human liver gene into the rice genome. Was their purpose to make rice more like us? To create kindred meals? To give that bland looking grain a human face? To make rice taste like liver? Look like liver? To make rice more delicious, maybe? More nutritious? That might be good. Healthier for our children’s livers? None of the above. By inserting a human liver gene that makes CPY2B6, an attractively labeled enzyme that is good at breaking down harmful chemicals in the body (we know where all those chemicals come from, don’t we) their purpose was to make the rice resistant to even more agricultural chemicals!

The objective was to produce a strain of rice that can withstand even more of the countless agricultural poisons used on our growing foods! Any rash insect or fungus or wilt that dared approach the new frankengrain - with its you-and-me component – could then be shot, gassed, nuked, cyanided, arseniced, PCB’d you name it, and still make it to your dinner table in a form resembling rice, with perhaps a bit of a liverish tint and a subtly chemical aftertaste. Can scientific motivation get any nobler than that?

Some geneticists are wary of what might happen if the liver gene should get into, say, weeds, that might then want to take over the world on behalf of the one true liver. But no need to worry; the men in white are on the case. Finish your rice, kids.

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