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The Almighty Buck

"Terminator Technology" 74

desslok writes "The USDA is going to license a patent to Monsanto for genetically altering plants so they cannot reproduce (so-called "Terminator Technology"). The end result is that Monsanto will be able to market genetically altered seeds that have a superior crop yield but cannot be copied. But there are dangers that these "sterile" plants could in fact pollinate neighboring crops." To bad nature isn't under the GPL.
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"Terminator Technology"

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  • ...nuke every field with their plants every year?
    Seems to be potentially less disasterous, as much expensive, and gives similar result.
  • Posted by Stephen "The Carp" Carpenter:

    I have no problem with human cloning...
    or scrwing with the genes of animals
    (like humans) but... not creating things
    to be put "in the wild".

    If you fuck with the genes of an animal...
    you make 1 animal...big deal. If it is a problem
    it dies right continuation...this is

    What would happen if this terminator gene starts spreading? it could (as the author said) be
    silecned...and who knows...maybe 20 or so
    generations later come back...

    all of a sudden crops start
    introduction of an anti-biotic into the soil
    kills many microrganisms...forcing them to adapt
    and a new strain which is not killable by
    tetracyclene rises up....

    This is just as bad as the governments fungus
    they are developing for release into the
    wild designed to kill cannibis plants....
  • by gavinhall ( 33 )
    Posted by Jeremy Witt:

    Nature is under the GPL... It's Man that is not
    Just because the source code is not easily readable doesn't mean that it's not already Provided with each Downloaded copy!

    It is man who is trying to introduce the closed source model to nature!

  • Posted by antivert:

    Go to your favorite search engine, and search around a bit for information on hydrogenated oils.

    Now.. no one can "own" nature. You can't patent an herb or a seed.. but you *can* own an genetically altered seed or herb. The FDA knows this. They don't like herbal supplements.

    If the FDA can make money, they will. Forget the country, forget the people. Money is king.,228 3,1349,00.html,228 3,1365,00.html
    - Very good information on hydrogenated oils, and why we shouldn't be eating them.


    the heat and chemicals used to harden vegetable oils into margarine change fatty acids into unnatural shapes, called trans-fatty acids (TFAs). Bent into the trans-shape, the acids won't fit neatly into cell membranes or other cellular structures. If the body tries to incorporate them anyway, the cell may become deformed. As a result, trans-fatty acids not only contribute to heart disease, but may also increase cancer risks, promote inflammation and accelerate tissue degeneration.

  • I'd love to be able to prove my dad wrong when he said, "You know, money doesn't grow on trees..."
  • since, although Monsanto can say "you don't HAVE to buy OUR genetically engineered seeds", it is obvious that a farmer not doing so will put him/herself at a competitive disadvantage relative to the guy that does. Once their products are locked-in as the standard, Monsanto can cash in.

    And make no mistake about it -- Monsanto's products will only get better. IBM and Monsanto are in a partnership right now to continue development on a pattern-finding (not recognition as in a parser, or comparison, but FINDING NEW CLUSTERS OF SIMILARITY by mathematical criteria) which will likely make Monsanto's overbearing power in the agricultural industry almost total.

    As someone else mentioned, be afraid. Be very, very afraid. This is extremely scary stuff that can ONLY be justified in terms of short-term bean counting; Monsanto is hoping that by pleading for "respect" for their investment, they can divert attention from the negative reality of this patent.

  • since, although Monsanto can say "you don't HAVE to buy OUR genetically engineered seeds", it is obvious that a farmer not doing so will put him/herself at a competitive disadvantage relative to the guy that does. Once their products are locked-in as the standard, Monsanto can cash in.

    And make no mistake about it -- Monsanto's products will only get better. IBM and Monsanto are in a partnership right now to continue development on a pattern-finding algorithm "Teresias" (not recognition as in a parser, or comparison, but FINDING NEW CLUSTERS OF SIMILARITY by mathematical criteria) which will likely make Monsanto's overbearing power in the agricultural industry almost total. The last time IBM had folks at Watson work on this stuff, the result was FLASH, the fastest parallel string searching algorithm yet developed. They are very, very good.

    As someone else mentioned, be afraid. Be very, very afraid. This is extremely scary stuff that can ONLY be justified in terms of short-term bean counting; Monsanto is hoping that by pleading for "respect" for their investment, they can divert attention from the negative reality of this patent.

    (sorry for the double post, I fucked up the first one)
  • Think about what you just said. If you clone their seeds, you have violated their patent and (should you be discovered) Monsanto will come down on you like a ton of bricks. If your crops are cross-pollinated by their seeds, and a jury can be convinced that you were really using their technology without paying for it, they will come down on you like a ton of bricks. If you're a competitor to Monsanto, and they can set you up in such a fashion, THEY WILL COME DOWN ON YOU LIKE A TON OF BRICKS. I trust this is enough repetition.

    The problem is not the technology but the patent, and the side effects of it. If the plants cross-pollinate, Monsanto can (and will) likely claim any plant with said "contiminated" genes as evidence of patent infringement. They don't have to play fair, be honest, or give a rat's ass whether parts of the world are starving. But they sure will make a lot of money, so IT MUST BE OKAY.

    Or were you not holding up this patent as a bright shining example of capitalism, similar to Microsoft's admirable business practices and IBM's past habits? Because in each case, what looks on the surface to be defensible was not, in fact, free, nor was it in the interests of the consumer.
    This patent is probably the worst I've ever seen granted, regardless of the amounts invested in developing it, because of its potential for use by Monsanto as a legal weapon after "accidentally" allowing crops grown with other companies' seeds to be cross-pollinated. They WILL use it.
  • I dare you to have this conversation with a farmer, troll-boy. It used to be the case that farmers produced their own seeds. Today, even prior to this new invention by Monsanto, we're in a dangerous situation where we may find ourselves, on a large scale, without enough seeds to plant. (All it will take is bad weather in the wrong place.) Famine may cure your myopic capitalist dogma some day soon.
  • Trying to keep them sterile eh?

    Remeber the character Malcoms saying?

    "Nature finds a way"
  • It's been said before, but it's worth repeating: Monsanto is the Microsoft of the agriculture world. They really don't give a damn about anything but superior profits. If they can find a way to prevent plants from producing seed, they will, because seed = source, and there is power inherant in both.
  • by On Lawn ( 1073 )
    And the cool thing about plants is that they make seeds that grow more plants that make more seeds... Without engineers, networks, design tools, or even electric power!

    I don't think we'll see any human power putting a stop to that process any time soon.
    ABORTED effort:
    Close all that you have.
  • It isn't so much the suns energy that is stored in the ground as Nitrogen (a key ingredient to the base energy compounds used in plants) and other nutrients. Plants use sunlight directly.

    I don't think it was that quickly that the Indians were proven right. If they looked at White Man in derision I would guess it was more out of lack of variety, and how ugly it was.

    It wasn't until the south found such cash crops as cotton and tobacco (both of which thouraghly deplete the soil of Nitrogen and other neccisary nutrients) that this became a known problem. George Washington Carver was one of the people that discovered that Peanuts especially did well in restoring the nutrients removed by cotton and tobacco. He also did a lot of work in making peanuts into a cash crop (Peanut Butter, etc.)

    Also after the mighty dust bowl of the depression they learned more methods of rejuvinating the soil, and controling erosion of top soil by planting rows across, not up and down grades.

    But early farmers of central america used rows and such. They had cities big enough to warrant that kind of production. The Indians as the white men discovered them on the east coast didn't have that centralized a population base.
    ABORTED effort:
    Close all that you have.
  • It's absolutely dangerous! The potato famine was caused by a blight spreading from field to field, destroying the crop. Pollen would have a similar pattern of spreading.

    Farmers will be in the same position soon that they were during that famine (if the trait DOES spread to non-engineered crops). That is, there will be no way to know that something's wrong until it's too late. The crop in year n (where n is the first year of concurrent planting), and will produce seed that appears perfectly normal in every way. The next year, when the saved seed is re-planted, nothing will happen. Even if the farmer has the resources to re-plow, and buy all new seed, they may not have long enough to bring the crop in.

    In many countries, the farmer saves seed because he CAN'T afford to buy enough seed for a full crop in the first place.

    Anyone care to make odds that the USDA will happily compensate the losses, and ship food into the affected areas?

  • We could run out of seeds. This is true. Also, why does this gene need some help from bacterial DNA to work? Where did it originally come from?

    Worse; we still can't know the effects this gene might have on humans, as there's no way this can have been tested long enough that we would know the long-term effects. I'll be the first to admit that the possibility of this happening is extremely remote, but what happens if this gene can somehow sterilize humans?

    My point: What Monsanto seeks to do is dangerous not only to the industry, but it is potentially dangerous to humanity in general, and as such they must be stopped at absolutely all costs. The first step: spreading the word.
  • I thought this practice came from Africa. (Kenya/Tanzania or West Africa) The "locals" were puzzled when the Europeans grew single crops rather than a multi-crop field.

    Interesting...didn't know that. Thanks.


    I think that the companies would be better off working on helping plants to be more disease resistant and need less water/nutrition. Rather than the nakedly greedy ploy of making "mule-like" seeds that are disigned to have no offspring.

  • From the folks that brought you Agent Orange and Posilac.

    Also the folks that saw to the firing of the 2 Fox journalists that tried to blow the whistle on Posilac.

    Much worse than Microsoft. Much MUCH worse.
  • So what happens if theres some sort of disaster (like a worst-case Y2K) and you cant *get* these seeds?

    We all die?
  • There are at least two organizations dedicated to saving seeds and distributing the seeds to anyone who wants to grow out another generation of plants and save the seeds once again. Sorry I don't think that either organization is on the web.
    Seed Savers Exchange, 3076 North Winn Road,
    Decorah, IA 52101 Collecting food plants
    worldwide. And in our southwest
    Native Seeds/Search , 526 N. 4th Avenue
    Tucson, Arizona 85705 Collecting food plants
    primarily in Southwest US and Central America.
    Food plants whose seeds can be collected and grown
    out for another generation of crop is key to our
  • Hmmmm... if it is sterile (so that farmers cannot reuse the seeds produced) then it can't hybridize other crops. If it is not sterile then Monsanto loses, boo hoo. Don't worry about this somehow causing all crops to develop such a genetic variation, because such a variant is by its very nature one which is unable to sustain itself without the assiastance of farmers. Think about it, a "feature" which crosses over to a plant and causes it to _fail to reproduce_ is an evolutionary dead-end.
  • Sorry. Had to say that.

  • From what a bio-chem major tells me, the terminator technology does not stop pollen production, but merely makes the pollen created unsuitable for reproduction with that type of crop. Unfortunetly, plants aren't like animals, and they can fairly easily reproduce from other species pollen. Such as the appearence of wild plants that are resistant to a version of Round-Up Herbicide. The weeds gained the genes from a strain of crop geneneered to be resistant to this particular formula of Round-Up. Hell, why do you think they were able to splice a glow worm gene into the Flavor-Savor(tm) tomato? Plants are really not that picky about what genes they have and can reproduce with many of them damaged or altered. I personally think this is a very bad idea.
  • According to a (US) Federal law called, I think, the Plant Protection act, it is illegal to cause a patented, seedless plant (of which there are many species) to reproduce by vegetative propagation.

    I found this out when I asked an acquaintance at a nursery whether instead of paying $100 for a seedless lime tree sapling (which seemed high) I could just take a cutting, and he told me we could both go to jail.

    No wonder it was a hundred bucks.

    Of course, if the plant happens to have seeds through some genetic accident, whose fault is that?

  • It is likely that Terminator will kill the seeds of neighboring plants of the same species,
    under certain conditions. The scenario might go like this: when farmers plant the Terminator seeds, the seeds already will have been treated with tetracycline, ...and will be ready to act when the end of seed development comes around.
    The seeds will grow into plants, and make pollen. Every pollen grain will carry a ready-to-act
    toxin gene. If the Terminator crop is next to a field planted in a normal variety, and pollen
    is taken by insects or the wind to that field, any eggs fertilized by the Terminator pollen
    will now have one toxin gene. It will be activated late in that seed's development, and the
    seed will die. However, it is unlikely that the person growing the normal variety will be able
    to tell, because the seed will probably look normal. Only when that seed is planted, and
    doesn't germinate, will the change become apparent.

    In any case, dead seeds, where they occur, would be a serious problem for the farmer whose
    fields are close to the Terminator crop... If many seeds die, it will make
    saving seed untenable for the adjacent farmer. Even if only a few seeds die, they will contain
    the toxin and any other proteins engineered into the Terminator-protected variety. These new
    "components" may make the seed unusable for certain purposes.

    Surprise, surprise. Monsanto's been working on this for a while - they just can't stand the idea that plants continue to reproduce without people paying for them again. Classic, huh? And they don't mind trashing other people's crops in order to protect their investment. Good luck proving in court that your planting was killed by the Terminator toxins. You wouldn't even know what to look for unless you knew what your neighbor was using.

    I am normally mild-mannered, but I hope Monsanto rots. This really ticks me off.

  • And the only way to prevent your crop from being killed is to use their product. Neat, huh?

  • I would imagine that it would be much easier to ensure that your clients keep coming back for more seeds by getting them to sign a contract to that effect. Or price your seeds higher if they don't want the contract.
  • There are already seedbank organisations which are dedicated to preserving seed stock for free use, and there have been for a long time (since the 60s?).

    Unfortunately I think they are going rapidly downhill, their stock is declining, in quality and quantity. There is a lot of corporate antipathy towards them (funny that). Even the research scientists tend to be allied with Evil Corporations(tm) these days (for e.g. an Australian university tried to patent genetic stock that it sourced from seedbanks, in direct violation of their contract (not sure of the outcome of the lawsuit, don't have any URLs, sorry)).

    The thing about Monsanto's product is that farmers will have no choice but to use it. There are many reasons why this is so. For a start, it will not only have the terminator genes, it will also have other (to farmers) highly desirable genes. For example, if these plants are resistent to Round Up (Monsanto's flagship herbicide) farmers will be able to significantly increase their yields (by eliminating weeds) and lower their costs (by spraying it over their entire fields, instead of paying people to walk the rows spot spraying). This is just an example, it applies to all the other pest resistent genes that will only be available in terminator type plants. Farmers will have no choice but to use these seeds if they want to stay competitive, and therefore stay in farming. Chances are they will not even be able to position their crop as a premium product, because of packaging laws which make it illegal to state a product is not genetically engineered.
    I would also not be surprised if newer varietals only came out in terminator form. Crop breeds have only a limited useful life span. Over time (5-10 years?) diseases adapt to attack the dominant crop breeds, and new varieties are introduced with better yields, better resistences, whatever. Older varieties yield less and are also worth less to buyers, especially those buying quality grain for human consumption.
    And there is the point, as someone mentioned above, that farmers in the poorest regions are dependent on aid money and have to do what they are told by the aid suppliers, who have their own agendas...

    Agricultural scientists have been discussing the issues this technology raises for years (I have no idea how long Monsanto has been working at this, but it has been common knowledge they are for a long time). The mood amongst the ones that I know is not happy.
  • According to the info on the RAFI site [], "The technology is aimed primarily at seed markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where over 1.4 billion people depend on farm-saved seed and on-farm plant breeding." I wonder if Monsanto is up front abut this intension of if they have some other fig leaf to hide behind. I really can't imagine a plausible benefit for Terminator seeds.
  • ??? Seems my link was foobar.
    Hopefully this is it: Help Stop the Terminator []

  • So what if they engineer seeds to produce plants that don't produce fertile seeds.

    Think nuggage.....extensive care is already being taken to make sure that one of america's favorite crops contains no seeds. Keeps the crop price up there by rarefying seed stock....

    So what do you do when you don't have seeds in your crop, but you want to grow more plants?
    If you can get a hold of reasonable seeds at reasonable rates (nothing wrong with capitalism) then buy them....if not CLONE! They may own the patents but they don't own the plants.

  • ..that Windows 2000 include a special technology that by displaying a curtain pattern on a screen affect your brain in such a way as to make you sterile?
    That was invented by one Russian biophysicist in late 80's for mid-control warfare and aquired by MS for $50 and a case of beer! Seriously.
  • The logical consiquences of this development is that our entire food supply will ultimately be non-self sustaining and dependent from season to season on whatever corporations hold the patents to the genetic code of the food in question. Any glitch in this system, whether it be economic, logistical, or geopolitical, could well make the potato famine in Ireland look like a picnic. We are, quite simply, looking at our own extinction. Something like this is IMHO far more likely to be the cause than nuclear, chemical, or biological warfare, or indeed catostrophic ecological failure (although one could argue that this would merely be the catalyst to such a failure, rather than the underlying 'cause'). One thing is certain: if our entire food supply becomes dependent on products using "Terminator Technology", sooner or later something will happen to interrupt the smooth mechanations of such a system, and at that time humanity will starve en masse, quite probably to extinction. Daniel Quinne has written some excellent books on what is already wrong with our agricultural system and what the consiquences will be if it continues to remain unchecked. His books "Ishmael" and "The Story of B" should be required reading for anyone interested in seeing the species continue for another generation or two. Any doubts as to the validity of his theories, particularly his comments on "locking up the food supply" to coerce cultural and behavioral change, have just been dispelled by this development.
  • I normally don't get involved in environmental issues because I think most of it is hype generated by those that are making money off of federal grants (studing O3 and acid rain, bla, bla, bla) _but_, this is a really bad thing. To screw with genetics within a lab is one thing, but releasing genetically altered seeds developed by a company that probably only cares about profits is dangerous. Besides the unknown side effects (DNA's not a simple thing), what about the obvious? How do you confine this new gene pool and keep it from spreading (as the artical suggest is possible)? Further, what if the pollen from these plants have the ability to "infect" other species or relitives of these plants (unlikely, but you never know)?
  • One thing's for sure, if Monsanto is involved
    they won't be loosing sleep over weather or not
    this is a good thing to do, genetically speaking.

    This is one company that I like to see wiped off
    the face of the earth sooner than Microsoft.
  • I don't understand why you would even want to produce terminators. All farmers I know (born in North Dakota so I know quite a few) don't grow their own seed. Most seed are Hybrids so most farmers believe that they won't be getting good yeilds if they cob their own elevators for seed to plant. Is there that much seed piracy between seed companies that this would be profitable?

    Maybe farmers should start an Open Seed Foundation to compete with the big seed companies. You could get billions of farmers hacking at their hybrids to try to get the perfect strain and distribute the DNA under a GPL (Grain Public Licence).

    Maybe some day.
  • Oh no! Genes that cause organisms not to reproduce are going to cross-populate into unintended species and do what? Cause them to die off without re-producing. End of story.

    It's not like this gene is going to run rampant and kill everything on the planet. A gene that causes organisms to die without reproducing does not spread very far.


  • It was about 2 months ago and it was a discussion on Biotechnology and Monsanto; specifically regarding potatoes. As it is now they license use of the crop-yielding seed so that, if you took a potato and replanted it the following season they could nab you on it by the genetic marker.

    Scary stuff...similar to MS's licensing agreement.

  • ...while I was a bit fed up with the way late 20th-century ultraglobalcapitalist greed is taking over the world, I really only wanted to give TMBG a good plug, since I'm pretty into them right now. :)
  • I'm a farmer in Western Canada. In this part of the world, Monstanta is one of three or four companies who recently started marketing genetically-altered canola seed that is tolerant to the herbicide glyphosate (you may know it better as Roundup, Monsanto's brand name). This program has become quite popular since glyphosate products can be more economical than other herbicides used in canola.

    Farmers wanting to use Monsanta's 'Roundup-Ready' canola have to jump through a few hoops and spend quite a large sum of money to get their seed.

    First they must take a half-day course in the rules regarding the Technology Use Agreement, a contract that says the farmer will buy plant Monsanto's seed, use Monsanto's herbicide only (Roundup) to control weeds, and keep none of the seed for reseeding next year.

    The certified seed costs probably around $30/acre (an educated guess since I'm not a canola grower), the TUA is $15/acre and the Roundup averages $10/acre. The harvested canola would be worth less than $10/bushel. If we assume the farmer gets 30/bushels per acre, over one-sixth of the yield is needed just to pay back Monsanto.

    There is currently a case before the courts here in Saskatchewan where Monsanto has charged a farmer with seeding Roundup-Ready canola without a TUA. The farmer says the seed must have blown in from an adjoining field or from trucks hauling canola to market on the road beside his field because he didn't use Monsanto seed. Case isn't settled yet.

    Another issue is what happens when glyphosate-tolerant seed gets into fields where it's not wanted. Roundup is a popular non-selective herbicide around here, used a lot on farms practicing minimum- or zero-tillage where they rely on chemicals to kill weeds rather than disturb the soil with tillage equipment (to prevent wind and water erosion of the soil as well as preserve moisture for crops). A farmer would suddenly see plants he cannot kill in the usual way and would face extra costs and headaches dealing with that problem. This would be the one case where a 'Terminator'-type variety of seed would be a benefit. Unfortunately, there is still the question of what would happen if it could possibly mix with traditional varieties. That would be a HUGE problem unless a farmer did a germination test (in this area many farmers do in fact use seed they've grown themselves).

    Anyway, that's another look at the workings of Monsanto, not quite the M$ of the ag world, but damn close to it.

  • This technology relies on inserting genes into a hybridize plant that will kill result in the plant kill its own developing seeds.
    Basically the bulk of the food supply will rely on plants that when they reach maturity, can't reproduce. Beyond a corporations ability to outright own the food supply, in the event of economic hard ship, the farmer can't even use their own seed.
    Granted, previously hybrids have been use and the yields declined overtime, but this is way diffferent. The though of having basically a sterile, mono-culture crop for a food supply should scary the hell out of you.
    The only way this technology could benefit society is as a way to fight noxious animals and plants (meaning species not native to a given area that are agressively pushing native species out), but given our success or nearly complete lack there of, this technology will only benefit the ultra-rich.
  • Take a look at my comment, it lower on the page.
  • Russia has a very long history of food shortages because of extremely poorly thought out ag. practices. Such as the idea of, if you keep a potato in cold storage, the following spring this potato would be better adapted to grow in cold climates. Thanks to this line of thinking and not enough people standing up to fight this practice, millions (yes millions) starved to death.
    We are trying to prevent turing into another Russia, and the food supply is a little too important to leave to a world view solely controlled by quarterly gains.

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?