Right enough of this literary nonsense – Shakespeare? Dickens? Lazy freeloading word shufflers, that’s what I’ve always said. We couldn’t ride a poem to the moon, or refine oil with a novella, or build a hovercraft out of alliteration. Words are for wimps, for those who are not tough enough to build a house, or double dig a flowerbed, or kill a man. So I apologise for literature’s pernicious and growing influence in this blog over the last few months. Like a spotty young undergraduate affecting a love of James Joyce to impress a pretty girl, I have been wittering on about authors and concepts and stanzas in the hope that it would make me a world renowned and multi-millionaire garden blogger. Well, we all know acne-faced undergrads who very nearly understand Joyce never get the girl – big, drunk, obnoxious, chest beating rugby players get the girl. With that in mind, let’s talk science; manly, tough, petrol driven science. Let’s talk genetic engineering.
Specifically, the Pandora’s box theory of genetic engineering. There’s a belief that if we start to dabble in the dark arts of GM, even to develop a drought resistant maize, we’ll release all the evils of the world. Dr Frankensteins will be given the freedom to run around creating flying hippos and glow-in-the-dark bracken; cross pollination will be rife, and the world will end in a big ball of airbourne, drought loving, glowing hippos. This is patently nonsense. The Pandora’s box argument says that man was not meant to meddle with evolution. Now, If I remember my Greek mythology correctly, opening Pandora’s box introduced pestilence, disease, and suffering to the world. Pestilence, disease and suffering are the very stuff of evolution! There ain’t no survival of the fittest in the Garden of Eden (if you allow me to mix my mythophores). Now that the Pandora’s box argument has been conveniently demolished by my imperfect reasoning we can get down to the nitty gritty of genetic engineering. Giant cress trees!
I have declared my affection for gigantic engineered super trees before, but now I’ve hit upon the species I will grow to build my towering forest of city destroying monster plants. Cress! Scientists have discovered a way to morph the humble cress from chipper little annuals into sturdy perennials that even develop woody tissue through secondary thickening. By switching off two genes that instruct cress to flower, the scientists prevent the plant from using all its non specialist cells. Annuals only live one growing season because having put all their non specialised cells into creating the flower they have active cells left to provide next year’s growing points. Perennials have a reserve of non specialist cells, stored in overwintering buds or bulbs or stalks. The genetically modified cress does not use up all these cells and effectively becomes a perennial.
If cress can be transformed from an annual to a perennial by simply fiddling with a few genes then its surely only a few short steps until we can build it into a vertiginous mammoth, capable of breaking the canopy in a forest of redwoods. Now I know that the majority of people feel iffy about the idea of fiddling about under natures skirts, but is there anyone so organically principled that they would not enjoy cress reaching this position? It’s the ultimate small guys done good, the apogee of Mighty Duck Tales, its Munster beating the All Blacks and Portsmouth winning the cup. After years of languishing in egg sandwiches cress would be king of the jungle.
So there we have it. Genetic engineering is not necessarily a good thing, but it can be a very interesting and exciting thing. Yes, limit the flying hippos, but don’t ban all research, don’t deny my dream of Giant Cress.