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Scientists Aim To Improve Photosynthesis

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the evolution-is-lazy dept.

Biotech 156

vasanth writes "Two new initiatives at the University of Cambridge aim to address the growing demand on the Earth's resources for food and fuel by improving the process of photosynthesis. Four transatlantic research teams – two of which include academics from Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences – will explore ways to overcome limitations in photosynthesis which could then lead to ways of significantly increasing the yield of important crops for food production or sustainable bioenergy. Despite the fact that photosynthesis is the basis of energy capture from the sun in plants, algae and other organisms, it has some fundamental limitations. There are trade-offs in nature which mean that photosynthesis is not as efficient as it could be – for many important crops such as wheat, barley, potatoes and sugar beet, the theoretical maximum is only 5%, depending on how it is measured. There is scope to improve it for processes useful to us, for example increasing the amount of food crop or energy biomass a plant can produce from the same amount of sunlight."

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Isn't this how... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789434)

Day of the Triffids starts?

Re:Isn't this how... (1)

meow27 (1526173) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789474)

Oh yeah? And I was sure this was the dawn of the Supox Race

Re:Isn't this how... (1)

mooingyak (720677) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790652)

I've got nothing useful to add but I had to show some love for the SC2 reference.

I have this vague recollection (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789466)

A similar story was posted not too long ago..

Several months ago... (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789622)

I vaguely remember eating a slice of cheesecake.

Re:Several months ago... (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789748)

Was it Gouda?

Re:Several months ago... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789806)

Well, maybe it was not cheese maybe kefir??

Re:Several months ago... (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789926)

Was it Gouda?

Cheddar is beddar.

Re:Several months ago... (1)

ThePromenader (878501) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790406)

Je préfère Camembert.

Re:Several months ago... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790938)

don't forget Roquefort

Re:I have this vague recollection (2)

angiasaa (758006) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789910)

A Déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something....

New Pigments! (2)

NFN_NLN (633283) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789478)

They should work on a pigment that absorbs useful light in the yellow-green band of the spectrum. Some of the inefficiency of photosynthesis comes from the fact that it only absorbs visible light in two narrow bands of the spectrum.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789690)

I think people are gonna object to being sold "greens" which are entirely black. Aesthetics matter just a teensy bit when it comes to food.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

damnfuct (861910) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789820)

depends how hungry you are

Re:New Pigments! (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791264)

Does it matter ? The GP's suggestion of changing the absorption spectra is ridiculously difficult, and there is no guarantee there even is a solution to the problem.

What determines the absorption spectra is the distance between different sections of a molecular electric field. So the only things you must do are :
-> find a field that is usable for this process inside a protein (extremely, extremely intractible problem. Basically the only thing you can do is try out random proteins and hope you hit something)
-> adapt this protein to pass energy around in the same cycle as Chlorophyll (this is a problem that is absurdly difficult and far beyond our current knowledge of chemistry)
-> solve the reverse folding problem (normal folding is totally intractible even with huge amounts of processing power, reverse folding ... let's just not go there. It is a similar problem to reversing a hash, only a few thousand orders of magnitude more difficult. It has one advantage to the previous problem : we actually have a clue how this can be done, we just don't have the equipment required)
-> translate this code into DNA and change the photosynthesis routine to use the new molecule, not at all a trivial thing to do either
-> actually build it into a cell, and prevent an outbreak (or, alternatively, we could cause an outbreak, turning all the green to black, and massively increasing speed of plant growth with unknown consequences) (this step requires very advanced equipment, but should not be all that difficult)

You might as well announce you're leaving for the andromeda galaxy, arriving tomorrow. That would probably be a much easier problem.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

James McGuigan (852772) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791556)

This ain't rocket science!

Re:New Pigments! (1)

Neil Boekend (1854906) | more than 3 years ago | (#35792008)

True, rocket science is easier.

Re:New Pigments! (0)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790264)

Are you kidding? The Goths would LOVE it! Hell it would probably be the first time in history we could get teens to eat veggies!

Re:New Pigments! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790570)

Most of the foodstuff eaten are not green. The parts consumers see of sugar cane, maize, wheat, rice and potatoes [wikipedia.org] aren't the leafy parts, so black leafs should not be a problem. Though black fields might attract some attention.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791414)

I am not sure walking around a black landscape would be as pleasing as walking around one with greens and colours. I also wonder whether after all these billion years of evolution whether nature arrived at this level of optimization because of very significant trade-offs. We could make photosynthesis more optimal, but what is the plant losing for this gain?

Re:New Pigments! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790676)

The edible fruit do not have to be black.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

WetCat (558132) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790988)

Red cabbage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_cabbage) has almost black, dark violet leaves. It tastes good.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791220)

And yet, none of plants mentioned had their leaves eaten. Instead, it is seeds that are eaten. As such, the colors of the parts eaten should not change.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791388)

I think people are gonna object to being sold "greens" which are entirely black. Aesthetics matter just a teensy bit when it comes to food.

Then it'll mostly go to starving people. Its not like its going to be thrown away. Hey starving person, here's a pitch black head of lettuce... oh you don't like the color? Gimme it back then, I'll give it to someone whom prefers not to die of starvation. bye bye starving person and have a nice day or whatever you have left?

Meanwhile I contemplate my side dish last weekend of diced apples, caramelized diced onions, chopped red bell peppers and some seasoning. Tasted bettter than it sounds. Not much "green" but it all came from the produce aisle...

Re:New Pigments! (1)

turtledawn (149719) | more than 3 years ago | (#35792124)

People now sometimes pay a ridiculous premium for any leafy green or flower which even approaches black. I don't think this will be a problem.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

damnfuct (861910) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789758)

A few weeks ago I was looking to see if anyone was trying what you say! It's a very interesting concept.

Re:New Pigments! (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789906)

Disclaimer: My group is collaborating with one of the guys from the FA.

It is not so simple as you think. But I see the same type of misunderstanding in many people in the field (especially the kind that is good at getting grants and bad at doing science, there are many of them...).

Leaves are pretty well designed (I mean that not in the intelligent way), and being green is one of them. The pigments that absorb the majority of the light (chlorophylls) have absorption peaks in the blue and red, and the absorption for green is indeed quite low. However, if you look at the total absorption spectrum of a whole leaf you will see the dip in the green is only 10-20% for most leaves. It is even less if you consider the whole canopy. Nevertheless our eyes pick up this small difference so that leaves look green.

The problem with having black leaves (i.e. absorbing all light, some seeweeds do that) is that you get too much energy in the upper most layer of your leaf (a leaf is several hundred micrometers thick), giving you plenty of energy, but other things (enzyme capacity, CO2 levels, etc) become limiting. Thus, this absorbed energy is wasted, or even starts to damage things (lots of electrons flying around is not always a good thing).

Thus, the green "window" allows part of the light to travel into deeper layers of the leaf, which is also often more porous, resulting in more scattering (longer pathlength, thus increasing chance of absorption) of the light. In this way, the green light drives much of the photosynthesis in the lower part of a leaf. Spreading out the light energy over several 100 micrometers makes the leaves much more efficient, but this would not work if the pigments absorbed green light equally well.

That is not to say that nothing in the pigments can be optimized. Crops are often large stands of genetically identical organisms. We want to optimize the growth of the whole group. This is different from what might have been selected for by evolution (in a mixed canopy, a good survival strategy is to overshadow your competitors, i.e. become tall and allocate more pigments to the top). Big increases in grain yields were realized by breeding for shorter plants (little stem, mostly leaves). This would not work in nature because if one genotype starts to cheat (become bigger), the others will be starved of light. A similar gain might be possible by optimizing pigment allocation to allow a better distribution of the light (most plants still put too much in the top).

Re:New Pigments! (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790390)

Very nice post—I had no idea that wavelength influenced depth of penetration. I had been under the impression that prior to the oxygen catastrophe, photosynthesizers used the other portions of the spectrum because of better atmospheric transmittance, and that green plants only flourished to exploit the new wavelengths that were being transmitted better. I hadn't considered that most of those photosynthesizers were probably the ancestors of e.g. red algae. Thanks for that insight.

Re:New Pigments! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790746)

Alright so, if what you are saying is true...

Would it be plausible to create what would be the equivalent of a very powerful solar panel by using this augmented leaves?
Y'know, provided you can find a way to harness the excess energy created?

I'm just spit-balling, I'm not a super-scientist or anything but it made me wonder.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791280)

While I think that what you are up is interesting (for starters, it will pick up more CO2), There is another choice, which is to increase the amount of soil that is devoted to a plant, by removing others. One that I see an issue with, is sugar beets. It would be quite a bit simpler to modify algae, or even Cyanobacteria to emit sucrose. With that approach, we could take Sugar beets our of production and devote the land to wheats, corn, etc.

Regardless, good luck with your efforts. Most ppl do not realize it, but we are heading towards a wall WRT food.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

Lorien_the_first_one (1178397) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791284)

This is not intended as a flame, rather, it is offered as food for thought.

I find it hard to believe that we could improve on a billion years of evolution of what is now the state of the art for converting sunlight to energy. I find it even harder to believe that we could not do that without making some sort of catastrophic mistake that wipes out the food supply by rendering it unsuitable for all other life. Sorry, I'm just a pessimist when it comes to genetic engineering and I'm very unhappy about the gene patent situation particularly with respect to the rapacious antics of Monsanto.

You might be able to do it. But then someone would land a patent on it, modify or cross-pollinate all the major crops and no one would be able to collect the seed from the previous crop to grow more without spending years in court over it. Due to patent extensions and improvements a la' Lemelson, seed collection would be forbidden for the next say, 50 years.

All that and I haven't even addressed the question of what happens to the *nutritional* yield of the resulting plants. Improving photosynthesis doesn't necessarily mean that the nutrition will be improved at the same time. And what about the people who want to eat organic food? There is simply no escape for people who simply want to leave alone what is already nearly perfect.

Just something to consider while you shoot little silver bits coated with genetic material into cells or infect them with a virus to inject the genes you want, all with the utmost uncertainty that the genes will be interpreted and expressed in the way you hope for. My point is, humans are not even remotely smart enough to be messing with genes without making some really big mistakes first.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791392)

My point is, humans are not even remotely smart enough to be messing with ... without making some really big mistakes first.

What do you think of fire, or the wheel?

Re:New Pigments! (1)

Lorien_the_first_one (1178397) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791418)

Depends on the context of your question. Can you be more specific?

Re:New Pigments! (1)

MickLinux (579158) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791448)

Let me add to this. Just supposing you *do* get all the energy out, possible... and you *do* transfer all that energy to useful carbohydrate production.

And let's suppose that we *don't* see a huge increase in phophate and potassium depletion...

Considering the track record of GE in America (Monsanto contaminating farmer's crops, and then charging huge amounts for the privilege), I do not believe that this will address hunger in the world. Rather, it will simply push the price of food up so high that it will become impossible for the poor to eat. We'll have mass starvation like never before.

Nor is this FUD. We saw the same thing happen when we pushed machinery-intensive farming on the 3rd world. We saw the same thing happen when the WTO pushed "infrastructure development" on the 3rd world.

Personally, I think these GE companies should be locked up. In fact, all these arrogant corporate leaders and governmental leaders and NGO leaders should be locked up, preferably in an insane asylum.

Now, if we can just figure out how to get the bell on the cat....

Re:New Pigments! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35791524)

I am not sure this post is aimed at me personally, but more in general. But anyway, I would like to reply to it as somebody from "in the field" (no pun intended).

I do not see your post as a flame. In fact, ideas like this have crossed my mind, and that of many people working on this stuff. I am not a molecular biologist (mostly at least), and to be honest, I do not do my work in order to feed people (not even myself). That may be a way of getting money, but in the end I do it to scratch an itch. I simply like to know how plants work. And the great thing is that the questions you raise (what happens to nutritional yield, what are the side-effects etc) are things which I am interested in.

I do believe that knowledge, an sich, is neither good nor bad. The power to use it badly is in the hand of society, or companies. And we (as society) should put proper guidelines or laws for this. I should be able to tell you what are our options though. Note that the whole patent issue, as bad as it is, is not a scientific problem; it is a problem with our current society. Same goes for people who want to eat organic food.

I personally believe there is very little danger from eating current transgenic food. But I respect people who think otherwise. However, concluding that we should stop doing research on how to improve plants because of this is not a very smart thing. Instead it would be better to to get regulation in place that will guarantee your freedom of choice.

I do think it is possible to improve yields. Natural selection "selects" for survival, not yield. And there are many constraints in natural habitats that are not there in the field. Whether or not we should do this in practice is something we need to decide together.

I have my doubts on whether the foodcrisis can be solved by technical means. But that does not mean it can not be useful to have the technique to engineer plants with foresight. It may be used for something completely different in the future. This could be good or bad purposes. But do you blame the inventor of the wheel for the war-chariot that it made possible?

Re:New Pigments! (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791894)

I have my doubts on whether the foodcrisis can be solved by technical means.

The food crisis HAS been solved by technical means. Or at least it has so far. The problem is that organisms tend to reproduce to the point where the resources will support them. In other words, we make more food to feed more people, who make more people, so we need more food for the people, who make more people....

My point is, however, that there is no way we could feed 6 billion people on 1700's agricultural technology.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

joss (1346) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791632)

> billion years of evolution of what is now the state of the art for converting sunlight to energy

No, evolution's 'aim' was the propagation of its own dna. Our aims are different so its not unreasonable to suppose we can improve upon what evolution did when we're actively trying to achieve it while for evolution it was an incidental side effect.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

Lorien_the_first_one (1178397) | more than 3 years ago | (#35792112)

I didn't say it was unreasonable. I just said it was dangerous in many ways. Often, we cannot comprehend the damage we can do with what seemed like a good idea at the time.

Re:New Pigments! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35792024)

Appeal to nature is a fallacy.

Humans have been genetically modifying plants since before recorded history. Crops have been selectively bred for yield, taste, resistance to pests, and general hardiness since the dawn of agriculture.

Re:New Pigments! (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791832)

You appear well-educated on the subject so I'll ask this question to you... I recall reading somewhere that in the past there were two competing strategies for photosynthesis, green and brown. (I assume brown was green & red) But green won the evolutionary war. Can you confirm this, and why was it? was it chance? can we stack the deck somehow to make brown work better now?

Re:New Pigments! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790004)

The photosystem is pretty good at capturing photons! It's after that initial step that the tough bits of chemistry come in.

First up, whenever you capture energy, you will heat up, hence plants have to manage that, and they do that with radiating out the excess energy captured (it is a lot!). There are a bunch of publications on reducing chlorophyll quantity in algae, which led to an improvement in photosynthetic efficiency and a drop in the excess energy radiated out (I think it was in the red region).

After that, the captured energy is used to split water, generating rather damaging radicals/ions (I forget which one) in the process - one changes your pH, the other causes redox stress. Either way, both are bad. The photo-system can't take a lot of that either, hence there are a ridiculous number of processes to effectively convert the split water back to water! (Refer Dynamics of Photosynthesis - Annual Review by Eberhard et al... Hah, luckily remember one paper from my thesis work!)

It doesn't get much better by the time the Hydrogen ion travels across the membranes, creating the much wanted NADPH, and some ATPs in the process. Now, depending on the chemicals wanted by the cells, the ratio of NADPH/ATP need to be tweaked, losing some energy there too.

And then come in the enzymes which start to use this simple energy to climb up the rather hard entropy ladder to create ordered polymers from the ridiculously simple water and carbon dioxide. Not the easiest of tasks in my opinion... and my un-calculated and un-verified bias is that the free energy change needed to accomplish this must be pretty high. Thermodynamics didn't like me very much... Nonetheless, the often abused number of 5% or 10% or 1% (yes, you can find all of these numbers in literature) photosynthetic efficiency means little as people always compare sunlight received to the calorific value of the biomass, completely missing out all the effort it took to build up that complexity against the rather real forces of disorder. Burning it is a complete waste!

Which is why my money (when I will have money!) will be on chemically simpler fuels - higher efficiencies are possible. But unfortunately, none of our alternatives to biomass have the self-replicating chemistry awesomeness of Biology. Hence it's not very cheap to manufacture and maintain. Plants kind of grow... You don't have to do much. Except, of course, if you're a corn ethanol producer, where you're doing too much! ;)

So basically, the problems are not at the pigments... The quantum yield of photon capture is near 100%. The complexity is after that. It's a mix of matching rates of various processes along the way, and losing energy working against entropy. And we're not even *close* to figuring out this system. Long shot.

Sayash

Plant Man (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789512)

Seems to me it'd be simpler to solve the world's food resource problem by figuring out how the plants do it... then cut out the middle man and do it ourselves. Screw farming... I'll be at the beach.

Re:Plant Man (1)

turtledawn (149719) | more than 3 years ago | (#35792210)

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress and the subsequent books in the trilogy end up discussing this in a near-future Earth.

What could possibly go wrong? (4, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789546)

This is a horrible, horrible idea. If you make photosynthesis more efficient, plants won't have to spend all their time generating food. A few hours a day, and they'll have all they need. Soon enough, plants will have more free time than they know what to do with. They'll wake up in the morning, spend a couple of hours making sugar, and spend the rest of the day sitting in coffee shops and arguing about the finer points of whatever passes for philosophy among the members of the plant kingdom.

Eventually, various collectives will form based on commonalities of ideas and who is rooted near what coffee shop. Sure, most of these collectives will concern themselves primarily with taking drugs and producing regrettable artworks, but eventually some of them will start to ponder their lot in life at the constant mercy of mankind. This will lead to the writing of lengthy treatises on the Rights of Plants and how they are constantly being trod upon (often quite literally) by man. After that, it's only a matter of time before they rise up under the banner of the Glorious Plant Revolution and kill us all.

Honestly, the last thing we can afford to do is make plants more efficient.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

zach_the_lizard (1317619) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789618)

You know who else produced regrettable artwork? Hitler. The plants would produce bad artwork too. Ergo, they are equivalent to Hitler and must be stopped at all costs!

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789636)

Zero to Godwin in less than double-digit posts? Well done, sir!

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790522)

You know who else produced regrettable artwork? Hitler.

I've always thought that there was some resemblance between Hitler and vegetables!

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791208)

Hitler was a vegetarian, after all.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789648)

You're right of course, but late to the party. The Secret Life of Plants [wikipedia.org]

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

Nyder (754090) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789718)

This is a horrible, horrible idea. If you make photosynthesis more efficient, plants won't have to spend all their time generating food. A few hours a day, and they'll have all they need. Soon enough, plants will have more free time than they know what to do with. They'll wake up in the morning, spend a couple of hours making sugar, and spend the rest of the day sitting in coffee shops and arguing about the finer points of whatever passes for philosophy among the members of the plant kingdom.

Eventually, various collectives will form based on commonalities of ideas and who is rooted near what coffee shop. Sure, most of these collectives will concern themselves primarily with taking drugs and producing regrettable artworks, but eventually some of them will start to ponder their lot in life at the constant mercy of mankind. This will lead to the writing of lengthy treatises on the Rights of Plants and how they are constantly being trod upon (often quite literally) by man. After that, it's only a matter of time before they rise up under the banner of the Glorious Plant Revolution and kill us all.

Honestly, the last thing we can afford to do is make plants more efficient.

But then we'll really be green, won't we?

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789764)

Not sure what could go wrong but I'm pretty sure at least one Godzilla film started off this way.

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790430)

I, for one, welcome our new leafy black overlords...

Re:What could possibly go wrong? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791420)

This is a horrible, horrible idea. If you make photosynthesis more efficient, plants won't have to spend all their time generating food. A few hours a day, and they'll have all they need. Soon enough, plants will have more free time than they know what to do with. They'll wake up in the morning, spend a couple of hours making sugar, and spend the rest of the day sitting in coffee shops and arguing about the finer points of whatever passes for philosophy among the members of the plant kingdom.

There is a (very tiny) gem of a real issue in your ... whatever. 50% more photosynthesis means 50% more sucrose (or whatever) means 50% more water needed to keep osmotic pressure constant. Or growth rate increases 50% meaning you need 50% more protein and cellulose synthesis required means 50% more fertilizer required. But that will screw up the ionic balance of the dirt so you need 50% more root growth and or 50% more inorganic filler (sand?) in the soil. Think of a factory, you make one machine at one station 50% faster, that does not mean the rest of the factory nor the supply chain not the distribution chain will run 50% faster.

Now what it would do, is make it possible to grow greenhouse crops at pretty high latitudes during the winter. You just have to balance the costs of running a greenhouse in the winter, vs the cost of inter-hemispheric aircraft shipping to see which is "worse" along with balancing vitamin deficiencies etc.

Zombies...photosynthesis...it all makes sense! (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789562)

One of the things that always bugged me about zombie flicks was how the zombies seemed to be able to run perpetually without a steady source of energy ( ie: brains...or anything else ). Now it makes sense. The zombification process obviously employs a type of photosynthesis. This is further confirmed by the seemingly universal trope that zombies are most active during the day time.

In either case, it has begun. This research will mutate with the common cold virus, resulting in a zombieland.

Re:Zombies...photosynthesis...it all makes sense! (1)

Co0Ps (1539395) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790836)

Ah. So that's the prologue to zombies vs. plants.

Four teams? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789596)

Cambridge is one, what are the others?

Improving photosynthesis? (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789600)

Sorry guys, you're a bit behind. I'm already producing multiple crops with zero light, and some crops I simply bypass photosynthesis by directly feeding the system the energy required to finish off the process, minus the involvement of a photon in any step.

But I'll never get a /. article. That's okay, /. has been well known to not tap its own natural resource for news, which is why they had to implement ads in the first place. Had Taco realized the potential of his base, he'd be richer than Zuckerman right now with the access he has to future technologies.

Re:Improving photosynthesis? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789896)

I'm already producing multiple crops with zero light

Did you move to Fukushima recently? Call me up when you're in Tokyo next, we can get together for a beer or something.

Why are people always trying to screw nature (0)

kdsible (2019794) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789616)

Nature is perfect as it stands without anyone's help. When humans try to improve things we end up with mad cow, killer bees, cancer this cancer that. Is it really worth making another dollar?
Society needs to become more efficient is what needs to happen. What happens to the food no one buys from the market, restaurant, or unharvested fields? Goes into the garbage thats where!!! There will never be enough because we are a throw-away-society period. Its bred into us from day one.

Re:Why are people always trying to screw nature (1)

Xaositecte (897197) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789640)

I can't tell if you're being serious, or imitating someone who seriously thinks like that for the purposes of a joke.

Re:Why are people always trying to screw nature (1)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791564)

Does it really matter? Either way it's hilarious.

Re:Why are people always trying to screw nature (1)

damnfuct (861910) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789784)

Yet you use a computer and perform frivolous activities like browse internet comments. I can't think of a more pointless use of cancer-causing electricity and throw-away goods.

bear (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789634)

!!!

how about using the plants we have efficiently? (3, Interesting)

nido (102070) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789676)

Feeding grain to animals in concentrated animal feeding operations [cafothebook.org] is stupid. Farms should be run by farmers [cafothebook.org] , NOT "absentee landlords" (like my dad & his two siblings, who inherited some ~200 acres from their parents. Grandma grew up on her farm, while Grandpa's parents owned their farm but never worked it). From the second link:

And yet it is not impossible to imagine a far different food and farming system than the one we have today, beginning with a long-term commitment to pasture-based farming. Many have been advocating for some time for an ambitious transformation in U.S. agriculture: away from soil-eroding feed grains toward deep-rooted perennial pastures; converting large-areas of the High Plains back to grass and grazing operations; diversifying the corn and soybean dominated Midwest. In fact, thousands of family farmers are managing appropriately-scaled, grass-fed meat, dairy and egg farms without raising animals in vile and sordid conditions. A smart pasture operation (SPO)—to pick up on a new phrase—is one of the easiest entry points for beginning farmers in current U.S. agriculture. Start-up costs are relatively modest and markets for healthfully raised animal products are underserved and growing rapidly. These pasture-based rotational grazing systems can be extremely resource efficient, and often have the advantage of not needing the energy- and capital-intensive inputs such as heating, ventilation, and cooling systems, housing construction, imported industrial feeds, and mechanized manure management systems. They rely on sound animal husbandry techniques and integrate farm animals into a healthy landscape, using manure as a source of soil fertility. But this will require whole new generations of farmers willing to join the ranks of this noble profession, and legions of consumers and an financial and production infrastructure to support them.

Many of humanity's health problems stem from the inappropriate use of grain crops. Grain-finished cattle have a fraction of the beta carotene and vitamin A as grass-finished beef.

Feeding cattle directly on land currently used to grow soybeans & corn would be a lot more productive. But I don't think all the "farmers" (who really just hire tenants to plant crops) would approve.

Re:how about using the plants we have efficiently? (3, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790118)

Sorry, but there is no way that pasture systems can be as efficient as ithe modern intensive farming system. That's exactly why we use the intensive system - it can produce so much more food from a given area, and for such a low cost, that it's almost impossible for anything else to compete in the market. The only possible way is to target the premium market of customers who will pay extra, such as by labeling the food as organic.

Re:how about using the plants we have efficiently? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790362)

Efficient in what sense? In the conversion of raw material to food? Or in terms of pollution, harm to animals, disregard for fundamentals of nature, growth of harmful bacteria? You know, things like cows are grass eaters, not corn eaters. All that happens when scientists try to improve natural processes is that businessmen come along and use it to make a profit at the expense of the environment, public health and safety.

Re:how about using the plants we have efficiently? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790412)

The only possible way is to target the premium market of customers who will pay extra, such as by labeling the food as organic.

This is quite the honest appraisal of the status quo: premium customers get real food, while everyone else eats soybeans.

Re:how about using the plants we have efficiently? (2)

Lorien_the_first_one (1178397) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791344)

You're right. This isn't about quantity, it's about sustainable quality.

Re:how about using the plants we have efficiently? (2, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791346)

Sorry, but there is no way that pasture systems can be as efficient as the modern intensive farming system.

Sure it can, once you factor in all the costs, rather than the costs that the farmer pays directly. The kinds of costs I'm thinking of here:
- Environmental damage caused by fertilizer runoff
- The wars to secure the oil to create the chemical fertilizers that the farmers depend on
- The depletion of the arable land, so that in a couple more generations the land that's currently used for growing feed corn will be able to grow nothing at all, ending up with another Dust Bowl
- The CO2 emissions from the more intensive farming methods, which are higher for modern agriculture than the entire US transportation system

I could go on. The point is that modern farming appears cheaper because it's effectively convinced everyone else to pay much of the bill in the form of taxes or inflation or deferred costs.

Re:how about using the plants we have efficiently? (0)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791618)

All of your points are bullshit. It's been shown time and again that modern farming methods are far more efficient, and far less harmful, than at any other time in history. Gullible people like you are why big corporations can use an "Organic" label to triple their profits without really doing anything different.

One word of warning: (2)

justsomecomputerguy (545196) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789698)

Kudzu!

A terrible idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789836)

By "addressing the growing demand on the Earth's resources for food" they are not creating a solution for 2030.
They are creating a HUGE problem for 2050.
The world is already overpopulated and this problem is only getting worse with each year.
If you want to address the "growing demand on the Earth's resources for food" make the demand stop growing - this is the real problem here.
Why don't scientist focus on a way to stop population growth instead?

Re:A terrible idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789996)

We already did ca. 1945. But the fat people of the first world (the meat eaters that are currently causing the food-shortage) refuse to use it, and instead, pay me and a lot of other people to invent new ways to make more food.

It is really that simple.

Re:A terrible idea (1)

LibRT (1966204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791268)

Thanks, sincerely, for the laugh - I needed that this morning!

In case you aren't aware (which quite apparently you aren't), the entire population of the earth could fit into the state of Texas with plenty of elbow room. There are more than enough resources, too (including food) to go around. Now distribution, that's another matter: the fiction of borders and the lack of free trade certainly means that not everyone has access to what they need. But there's plenty to go around.

Why hasn't Nature done this already? (1)

fhknack (104003) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789850)

I'm no botanist, but I've seen Japanese maples and rainbow Swiss chard. I've also read enough Dawkins and Ridley to understand that even extremely complex biological evolution is not only possible but inevitable. If photosynthesis can be improved, it probably would have been. If we increase photosynthetic efficiency, what are we trading? TAANSTAFL, and all that.

Re:Why hasn't Nature done this already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35789948)

The way we grow plants (monocultures with input of fertilizer and irrigation) is not the same as natural conditions. Evolution never had to optimize for such an environment.

Re:Why hasn't Nature done this already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790602)

If photosynthesis can be improved, it probably would have been. If we increase photosynthetic efficiency, what are we trading?

That is a very good question.

It could be that excess oxygen or excess sugars thus obtained may be toxic to cells, or too perhaps efficient photosynthesis would require too much water transport and expenditure for any reasonably sized land-growing plant.

However, perhaps the truth is simpler: maybe higher efficiency is not required - it wouldn't do anything much for plant's genes, or worse - it would make the plant more attractive food, a prime target for herbivores.

Back to the topic of photosynthesis - we already tweaked ("domesticated") herbal species, against their original genetic interests, to get higher crops. This would be only another step down that same path.

However, for our energy needs and our carbon-sequestration intent, perhaps we could ditch the plants altogether and industrialize the whole process on large scale.

Re:Why hasn't Nature done this already? (1)

jabuzz (182671) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790868)

It has, there are several types of photosynthesis out there, the main ones being C3 and C4 carbon fixation, with C4 fixation being more efficient than C3. If we could retro fix the C4 method that is used by maize, sugar cane, millet to things like rice, wheat, barley and other stable foods could lead to huge increases in crop yields.

Retrofitting nitrogen fixing would not go amiss either.

Re:Why hasn't Nature done this already? (1)

rufty_tufty (888596) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791082)

Some earlier posts have covered this in more detail but in short evolution is about survival of the fittest sure, but it's also about beating your competitors.
A good example is the forest canopy where being taller than your competitors is more important than being efficient with that light, for most food crops this translates to us trying to engineer shorter crops with less effort wasted on the (to us) useless stems. So it's easy to imagine analogous processes in the cell where efficiency isn't maximised in the ways that we as consumers would like.
Also like we have an appendix and only two arms (Imagine in day to day life how useful it would be to have more arms, or extra eyes in the back of your head) evolution mostly optimises what it has. Look at the construction of a human eye and compare it to that of a squid, they have a more advanced arrangement than us so you can't assume that just because we have our design optimised very well that doesn't mean that a better design is not possible.
There are mechanisms that algae have evolved to enhance their efficiency that corn hasn't, it's not just about converting sunlight to energy, but making use of that energy afterwards and keeping those processes that do that supplied with all they need, not every plant has evolved every trick in the book. By combining multiple advances together and tuning the processes towards what humans want is kind of what genetic engineering is all about.

Weeds (1)

poptones (653660) | more than 3 years ago | (#35789934)

Just what we need: Make hydroponic pot production even more efficient!

Fundamental flaw in using crops for fuel. (1)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790006)

Look I'm very VERY much for kicking our fossil fuel addiction that causes global warming and is directly funding terrorism (republican appointed defense secretary Gates said most financial support for Taliban/Al Queda comes from gulf states not drug trafficking) but using crops for biofuels is not the way to go. Aside from the fact that some fuels (ethanol from corn) may require MORE energy to produce than is harvested, there are serious ethical issues when you have American S.U.V. drivers competing directly with sub-Saharan african peasants for a life sustaining resource. For one thing it connects the global food market with the monopolistic oil pricing strategies of our friends (sarcasm) from the middle east. (I was at a talk given by the president of ASEAN who represents some of the largest rice exporting countries in the world like Thailand and Vietnam. When asked if they had thought about setting up a cartel like OPEC but with rice not oil he remarked that there were serious ethical issues to consider if you were going to use as a weapon the basic foodstuff of hundreds of millions.)

The powerful political farming interests would just love to see their product fueling our cars. (I keep seeing this commercial on Discovery TV implying the average westerner utilizes 120 TIMES as much energy in maintaining their lifestyle as they do eating). Clearly even if crops were net energy positive (after fertilizers, transport, fermentation, etc.) using them in this way would send the price into the stratosphere. Renewable solar technology MUST be used (sorry, but let's face it Nukes are not going to have a renaissance in the West at least :(. Hopefully photovoltaics or something like the "artificial leaf" can generate carbon zero fuels at a much higher efficiency (supposedly 10x natural photosynthesis which, as this article confirms, is appallingly inefficient). More importantly, placed in the deserts or other areas not suitable for farming they won't compete with the crops we need to LIVE.

I'm really not against fossil fuels, I'd really like to see us get some oil from the tar sands those nice Canadians have, or tap into the abundance of natural gas or even go after the HUGE undersea deposits of methane clathrates. HOWEVER, we've really got to do this WHILE keeping the carbon impact zero (or negative!). This is possible, there are a number of carbon sequestration technologies that should be able to do this (there was a recent Sci-Amer. article on this) while only consuming a fraction of the energy gained from burning it. Until that's demonstrated and put into place though, we should really be focusing on renewable technologies until nuclear fusion comes online to save our butts in 20 years. ;)

Play god? (1)

Ryanrule (1657199) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790096)

Why only play?

Re:Play god? (1)

francium de neobie (590783) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790230)

Because we're not powerful enough to control and manipulate the laws of physics, and mathematics, yet?

If you think about it.. most people's image of God is quite a bit less powerful than what's needed to fit their definitions.

We already have the tech (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790154)

We already have the technology necessary to prevent world hunger, it's called birth control. Are there any charities I can fund that aim to distribute birth control to poor countries? Because I would give money to that cause

Re:We already have the tech (2)

marjancek (1215230) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790288)

Don't call it birth control; it's better called 'family planning'.

A family is less poor not only if wisely chooses its number of children, but also the moment in time when they have it.

In countries with high birth rates (children per woman) couples get their first child so early that usually they don't finish school, before getting any working experience that would grant them a safe monthly income, nor any time at those job positions to save some money while they could have.

That's why I prefer the term Family Planning, it makes more sense.

Re:We already have the tech (1)

MickLinux (579158) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791512)

Convince me that a college degree means greater financial wealth. Typically, I see all the profits sucked up by those in power, from the boss straight up to the president of the US.

The problem isn't birth control. The problem is arrogance and greed. And although I disagree with Ayn Rand on many things, I do agree with her that that arrogance and greed will destroy the production chain, and initiate great destruction of wealth. In fact, it is already happening.

In fact, it is happening at the hands of overeducated, under-wise people. I'll take a wise gardener or woodworker or family man for my ruler, over an educated whatever, any day of the week.

Re:We already have the tech (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791002)

We already have the technology necessary to prevent world hunger, it's called birth control.

We don't even need technology to prevent world hunger, all we need are free and open democratic systems everywhere. Once you take out the dictators who hoard food and resources for themselves, world hunger becomes a past issue.

Sure (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791422)

Stop illegal aliens and slow immigrants from going to nations where they already have a low birthrate. That will put pressure on nations who have not learned to control their own birthrates.
Then fund protestants to convert roman catholics,mormons and muslims. Once you do that, then you will get ppl to use birth control and look beyond their church.
Finally, figure out how to slow down Africa. [cia.gov]

Good luck with that.

Desertification (1)

marjancek (1215230) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790254)

Wouldn't this contribute to the already important problem of desertification?
If plans in the same area will be able to produce more bio-mass per squared meter, then the soil will be deprived of nitrogen and other nutrients faster, accelerating the process of desertification.

You can of course tell me that fertilising those lands will solve the problem, but fertilisers have their own problems on the long run, specially inorganic ones.

It does sound interesting for hydroponic cultivation and, why not, space farming.

How about breeding less people? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790322)

Instead of making more efficient crops, we could simply breed less. That would make most of the problems in India and China go away in about 30 years.

Re:How about breeding less people? (1)

hughbar (579555) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790376)

I do so agree with this, please mod up. In the 1970s, at the time of the Club of Rome, we discussed overpopulation, now, except for China, it's off the radar. Why is that? We don't need more food, we need less people.

Morons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790434)

Why bother? If people just stopped having so many sodding kids there'd be no need for this. Will we not stop till ever inch of the planet is rammed full of people?

There's nothing clever about this. We're behaving like lemmings, and things like this will only help us drive ourselves over the cliff. The endless growth of humanity is not desirable.

Improve photosynthesis? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790518)

Photosynthesis is one of the oldest processes of life. I'm sure that if it could be improved without adverse effects to the plants, it would have happened through evolution.

For fuel production, I think it would be better to find out how to make our own technical version of photosynthesis, producing directly the fuel we need without wasting some of the energy for keeping an organism alive.

Re:Improve photosynthesis? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790692)

well in nature there are many limitations such as amount of nutrients/water available and the photosynthesis is optimised for this not for the optimum condition we can create in a farm to get higher yield...

Re:Improve photosynthesis? (1)

Richard Kirk (535523) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790758)

Photosynthesis is one of the oldest processes of life. I'm sure that if it could be improved without adverse effects to the plants, it would have happened through evolution.

From the plant's point of view, photosynthesis is fine as it is. They don't necesarily want to bulk up like mad, and get eaten or burnt as quickly as possible. Photosynthesis in blue-green algae is different and a lot faster (but not necessarily 'more efficient' unless you define your terms rather nicely) then in regular plants, so it is certainly possible that the process can be sped up. Probably there are limits to how much we can tinker with the process in a large and rigid plant, because it has other processes that deal with the products of photosynthesisis, and these would have to be sped up too. However, there is probably some slack in the system, and faster photosynthesis will probably mean faster growth. It is certainly worth a go.

Dangerous and Documented (1)

plastick (1607981) | more than 3 years ago | (#35790686)

Bad idea if this is supposed to be for food. It's very arrogant and sociopathic to think you can make such a change, and then feed it to innocent people - not certain if there are serious implications. Reality has proven that there are few real shortcuts (there is always a trade-off). Research has been included and you are welcome to investigate this information for yourself.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been linked to thousands of toxic or allergic-type reactions, thousands of sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals. [Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA USA 2007] Herbicide tolerant soy, corn, cotton, and canola plants are engineered with bacterial genes that allow them to survive otherwise deadly doses of herbicides. Herbicide tolerant crops comprise about 80% of all GM plants. The other 20% are corn and cotton varieties that produce a pesticide in every cell. This is accomplished due to a gene from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, which produces a natural insect-killing poison called Bt-toxin. We ingest these pesticides.

FDA internal memos made public from a lawsuit showed that the overwhelming consensus among the agency scientists was that GM crops can have unpredictable, hard-to-detect side effects. Various departments and experts spelled these out in detail, listing allergies, toxins, nutritional effects, and new diseases as potential dangers. They urged superiors to require long-term safety studies. [For copies of FDA memos, see The Alliance for Bio-Integrity, www.biointegrity.org ]

There are several reasons why GM plants present unique dangers. The first is that the process of genetic engineering itself creates unpredicted alterations, irrespective of which gene is transferred. The gene insertion process, for example, is accomplished by either shooting genes from a "gene gun" into a plate of cells, or using bacteria to infect the cell with foreign DNA. Both create mutations in and around the insertion site and elsewhere. [J. R. Latham, et al., "The Mutational Consequences of Plant Transformation," The Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology 2006, Article ID 25376: 1-7; see also Allison Wilson, et. al., "Transformation-induced mutations in transgenic plants: Analysis and biosafety implications," Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering Reviews – Vol. 23, December 2006] The "transformed" cell is then cloned into a plant through a process called tissue culture, which results in additional hundreds or thousands of mutations throughout the plants' genome. In the end, the GM plant's DNA can be a staggering 2-4% different from its natural parent (which is a LOT).

Although the FDA scientists evaluating GMOs in 1992 were unaware of the extent to which GM DNA is damaged or changed, they too described the potential consequences. They reported, "The possibility of unexpected, accidental changes in genetically engineered plants" might produce "unexpected high concentrations of plant toxicants." [Edwin J. Mathews, Ph.D., in a memorandum to the Toxicology Section of the Biotechnology Working Group. Subject: Analysis of the Major Plant Toxicants. Dated October 28, 1991] GM crops, they said, might have "increased levels of known naturally occurring toxins," and the "appearance of new, not previously identified" toxins. [Division of Food Chemistry and Technology and Division of Contaminants Chemistry, "Points to Consider for Safety Evaluation of Genetically Modified Foods: Supplemental Information," November 1, 1991]

The very first crop submitted to the FDA's voluntary consultation process, the FlavrSavr tomato, showed evidence of toxins. Out of 20 female rats fed the GM tomato, 7 developed stomach lesions. [Department of Veterinary Medicine, FDA, correspondence June 16, 1993. As quoted in Fred A. Hines, Memo to Dr. Linda Kahl. "Flavr Savr Tomato: ... Pathology Branch's Evaluation of Rats with Stomach Lesions From Three Four-Week Oral (Gavage) Toxicity Studies ... and an Expert Panel's Report," Alliance for Bio-Integrity (June 16, 1993)] The director of FDA's Office of Special Research Skills wrote that the tomatoes did not demonstrate a "reasonable certainty of no harm," [Robert J. Scheuplein, Memo to the FDA Biotechnology Coordinator and others, "Response to Calgene Amended Petition," Alliance for Bio-Integrity (October 27, 1993)] which is their normal standard of safety. The Additives Evaluation Branch agreed that "unresolved questions still remain." [Carl B. Johnson to Linda Kahl and others, "Flavr Savr Tomato: Significance of Pending DHEE Question," Alliance for Bio-Integrity (December 7, 1993)] According to Arpad Pusztai, PhD, one of the world's leading experts in GM food safety assessments, the type of stomach lesions linked to the tomatoes "could lead to life-endangering hemorrhage, particularly in the elderly who use aspirin to prevent [blood clots]." [Arpad Pusztai, "Genetically Modified Foods: Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health?" June 2001 Action Bioscience]

Mice fed potatoes engineered to produce the Bt-toxin developed abnormal and damaged cells, as well as proliferative cell growth in the lower part of their small intestines (ileum). [Nagui H. Fares, Adel K. El-Sayed, "Fine Structural Changes in the Ileum of Mice Fed on Endotoxin Treated Potatoes and Transgenic Potatoes," Natural Toxins 6, no. 6 (1998): 219–233] Rats fed potatoes engineered to produce a different type of insecticide (GNA lectin from the snowdrop plant) also showed proliferative cell growth in both the stomach and intestinal walls. [Stanley W. B. Ewen and Arpad Pusztai, "Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine," Lancet, 1999 Oct 16; 354 (9187): 1353-4]

Rats fed the GNA lectin potatoes described above had smaller and partially atrophied livers. [Arpad Pusztai, "Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food," Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84.] Rats fed Monsanto's Mon 863 corn, had liver lesions and other indications of toxicity. [John M. Burns, "13-Week Dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002," December 17, 2002] Rabbits fed GM soy showed altered enzyme production in their livers as well as higher metabolic activity. [R. Tudisco, P. Lombardi, F. Bovera, D. d'Angelo, M. I. Cutrignelli, V. Mastellone, V. Terzi, L. Avallone, F. Infascelli, "Genetically Modified Soya Bean in Rabbit Feeding: Detection of DNA Fragments and Evaluation of Metabolic Effects by Enzymatic Analysis," Animal Science 82 (2006): 193–199] The livers of rats fed Roundup Ready canola were 12%–16% heavier, possibly due to liver disease or inflammation. [Comments to ANZFA about Applications A346, A362 and A363 from the Food Legislation and Regulation Advisory Group (FLRAG) of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) on behalf of the PHAA, "Food produced from glyphosate-tolerant canola line GT73]

Over a series of three experiments at the Russian National Academy of sciences, 51.6 percent of the offspring from the GM-fed group died within the first three weeks, compared to 10 percent from the non-GM soy group, and 8.1 percent for non-soy controls. "High pup mortality was characteristic of every litter from mothers fed GM soy flour." [I.V.Ermakova, "Genetically Modified Organisms and Biological Risks," Proceedings of International Disaster Reduction Conference (IDRC) Davos, Switzerland August 27th – September 1st, 2006: 168–172] In a preliminary study, the GM-fed offspring were unable to conceive. [Irina Ermakova, "Experimental Evidence of GMO Hazards," Presentation at Scientists for a GM Free Europe, EU Parliament, Brussels, June 12, 2007] After two months on the GM soy diet, however, the infant mortality rate of rats throughout the facility had skyrocketed to 55.3 percent (99 of 179). [I.V.Ermakova "GMO: Life itself intervened into the experiments," Letter, EcosInform N2 (2006): 3–4]

Microscopic analysis of the livers of mice fed Roundup Ready soybeans revealed altered gene expression and structural and functional changes. [M. Malatesta, C. Caporaloni, S. Gavaudan, M. B. Rocchi, S. Serafini, C. Tiberi, G. Gazzanelli, "Ultrastructural Morphometrical and Immunocytochemical Analyses of Hepatocyte Nuclei from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean," Cell Struct Funct. 27 (2002): 173–180] Many of these changes reversed after the mice diet was switched to non-GM soy, indicating that GM soy was the culprit. The findings, according to molecular geneticist Michael Antoniou, PhD, "are not random and must reflect some 'insult' on the liver by the GM soy." Antoniou, who does human gene therapy research in King's College London, said that although the long-term consequences of the GM soy diet are not known, it "could lead to liver damage and consequently general toxemia." [Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, Yes! Books, Fairfield, IA USA 2007]

In the FlavrSavr tomato study, a note in the appendix indicated that 7 of 40 rats died within two weeks and were replaced. [Arpad Pusztai, "Can Science Give Us the Tools for Recognizing Possible Health Risks for GM Food?" Nutrition and Health 16 (2002): 73–84] In another study, chickens fed the herbicide tolerant "Liberty Link" corn died at twice the rate of those fed natural corn. [S. Leeson, "The Effect of Glufosinate Resistant Corn on Growth of Male Broiler Chickens," Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, University of Guelph, Report No. A56379, July 12, 1996] In various analyses of kidneys, GM-fed animals showed lesions, toxicity, altered enzyme production or inflammation. [R. Tudisco, P. Lombardi, F. Bovera, D. d'Angelo, M. I. Cutrignelli, V. Mastellone, V. Terzi, L. Avallone, F. Infascelli, "Genetically Modified Soya Bean in Rabbit Feeding: Detection of DNA Fragments and Evaluation of Metabolic Effects by Enzymatic Analysis," Animal Science 82 (2006): 193–199][John M. Burns, "13-Week Dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002," December 17, 2002] Enzyme production in the hearts of mice was altered by GM soy. [R. Tudisco, P. Lombardi, F. Bovera, D. d'Angelo, M. I. Cutrignelli, V. Mastellone, V. Terzi, L. Avallone, F. Infascelli, "Genetically Modified Soya Bean in Rabbit Feeding: Detection of DNA Fragments and Evaluation of Metabolic Effects by Enzymatic Analysis," Animal Science 82 (2006): 193–199] And GM potatoes caused slower growth in the brain of rats. [Arpad Pusztai, "Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food," Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84] In mice, young sperm cells were altered. [L. Vecchio et al, "Ultrastructural Analysis of Testes from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean," European Journal of Histochemistry 48, no. 4 (Oct–Dec 2004):449–454] Embryos of GM soy-fed mice also showed temporary changes in their DNA function, compared to those whose parents were fed non-GM soy. [Oliveri et al., "Temporary Depression of Transcription in Mouse Pre-implantion Embryos from Mice Fed on Genetically Modified Soybean," 48th Symposium of the Society for Histochemistry, Lake Maggiore (Italy), September 7–10, 2006]

About two dozen farmers reported that their pigs had reproductive problems when fed certain varieties of Bt corn. Pigs were sterile, had false pregnancies, or gave birth to bags of water. Cows and bulls also became sterile. Bt corn was also implicated by farmers in the deaths of cows, horses, water buffaloes, and chickens. Rats fed Monsanto's GM corn, for example, had a significant increase in blood cells related to the immune system. [John M. Burns, "13-Week Dietary Subchronic Comparison Study with MON 863 Corn in Rats Preceded by a 1-Week Baseline Food Consumption Determination with PMI Certified Rodent Diet #5002," December 17, 2002] GM potatoes caused the immune system of rats to respond more slowly. And GM peas provoked an inflammatory response in mice, suggesting that it might cause deadly allergic reactions in people. [V. E. Prescott, et al, "Transgenic Expression of Bean r-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity," Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry (2005)]

Sections of the protein produced in GM soy are identical to shrimp and dust mite allergens, [G. A. Kleter and A. A. C. M. Peijnenburg, "Screening of transgenic proteins expressed in transgenic food crops for the presence of short amino acid sequences indentical to potential, IgE-binding linear epitopes of allergens," BMC Structural Biology 2 (2002): 8–19] but the soybean was introduced before WHO criteria were established and the recommended additional tests were not conducted. If the protein does trigger reactions, the danger is compounded by the finding that the Roundup Ready gene transfers into the DNA of human gut bacteria and may continuously produce the protein from within our intestines. [Netherwood et al, "Assessing the survival of transgenic plant DNA in the human gastrointestinal tract," Nature Biotechnology 22 (2004)]

The list just goes on and on and on. This is just a "sample" of the highlights! There are books and books full of scientifically documented research on the subject of GMO foods. [Excellent movie called "The Future of Food" http://www.thefutureoffood.com/ [thefutureoffood.com] ][ http://www.saynotogmos.org/ [saynotogmos.org] ]

Two GM foods whose commercialization was stopped because of negative test results give a chilling example of what may be getting through. Rats fed GM potatoes had potentially precancerous cell growth in the stomach and intestines, less developed brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver, and damaged immune systems. [Arpad Pusztai, "Can science give us the tools for recognizing possible health risks of GM food," Nutrition and Health, 2002, Vol 16 Pp 73-84; Stanley W. B. Ewen and Arpad Pusztai, "Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine," Lancet, 1999 Oct 16; 354 (9187): 1353-4; Arpad Pusztai, "Genetically Modified Foods: Are They a Risk to Human/Animal Health?" June 2001 Action Bioscience http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/pusztai.html [actionbioscience.org] ; and A. Pusztai and S. Bardocz, "GMO in animal nutrition: potential benefits and risks," Chapter 17, Biology of Nutrition in Growing Animals, R. Mosenthin, J. Zentek and T. Zebrowska (Eds.) Elsevier, October 2005] GM peas provoked an inflammatory response in mice, suggesting that the peas mighttrigger a deadly anaphylactic shock in allergic humans. [V. E. Prescott, et al, "Transgenic Expression of Bean r-Amylase Inhibitor in Peas Results in Altered Structure and Immunogenicity," Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry (2005): 53] Both of these dangerous crops, however, could easily have been approved. The problems were only discovered because the researchers used advanced tests that were never applied to GM crops already on the market! Both would have passed the normal tests that companies typically use to get their products approved. Ironically, when Monsanto was asked to comment on the pea study, their spokesperson said it demonstrated that the regulatory system works. He failed to disclose that none of his company's GM crops had been put through such rigorous tests.

Fortunately, not everyone feels that questioning GM foods is disloyal. On the contrary, millions of people around the world are unwilling to participate in this uncontrolled experiment. They refuse to eat GM foods. Manufacturers in Europe and Japan have committed to avoid using GM ingredients. And the US natural foods industry, not waiting for the government to test or label GMOs (since there is legislation that prevents the labeling of GMO food), is now engaged in removing all remaining GM ingredients from their sector using a third party verification system. And even if you never ate a single vegetable in your life, the vast majority meat you eat is raised on GMO corn [King Corn http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1112115/ [imdb.com] ].

Seriously, do you want to be the guinea pigs?

Simple argument makes it hard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35790932)

The argument: nature has been trying it for 3.5 billion years. And it's still at 5%, with a such complex solution as clorophile. (If that was designed by a human, I'd say it is a masterpiece). So - for solar cells, maybe because we aren't limited to organical chemistry. But for organisms, this chance is small (although I agree that some solutions might be be unreachable by the evolution, so htey need intelligent design, i.e. our brains).

sugar cane (1)

guarda moveis (2039476) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791118)

I live in Brazil and the culture of the sugar cane is a common practice in the quest for green energy, here we bought alcohol from sugar cane to supply our cars

whatcouldpossiblygowrong? (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 3 years ago | (#35791882)

I have nothing against GM crops to some degree, but I have to wonder if this is a great idea.

Every facet of a species' evolution is toward making it more successful in its environment. Clearly, these species have settled on a 5% efficiency as 'good enough' - not (Darwinistically) willing to trade-off higher efficiencies to lose some other feature.

Are there other grasses that run at higher efficiencies? (Is sugar cane a grass?)

Anyone know what the photosynthesis efficiencies are for the ORIGINAL versions of these food-grasses? I know that what we look at as wheat is significantly different than it originally evolved.

Further, last time I checked, there is no shortage of FOOD on this planet. The issue about global food shortages is a matter of politics and distribution, NOT the ability to grow enough food.

Finally, and I know this is controversial, but in terms of the poorest regions - are we really helping them if we provide them more sources of cheap food? Haven't they already demonstrated that they'll promptly just breed past the point of sustainability when they can? How do we believe that the next generations will behave differently? Won't higher-food-content grains just lower the price of food in the developed world further, making it even harder to be anything but a giant industrialized corporate farm?

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