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Comment Not the same problems, different ones (Score 2) 202

It seems to me neither taking money way from rich people nor people not paying their student loans were responsible for creating "this situation" (I'm assuming you mean the ongoing bad economy). So while I agree the protests are unfocused and/or advocating extreme positions, at least their positions are extreme in the OPPOSITE direction from what got us into this mess.

Comment You're not comparing the same kind of percentages (Score 1) 551

You give the initial percentage of the school's total operating budget supported by the state. Now I don't know what percentage of the budget originally came from student tuition, but let's say it was also 20%. If state support drops 7% to 13%, then to make up the same amount of funding from tuition (bringing tuition to 27% of the total budget) would require raising tuition 35%. And this doesn't take into account regular inflation, which would have driven a 30+% increase in tuition over 10 years even without having to make up for declining state support. Even so, that doesn't explain the total increase in tuition you describe, but it does explain why the increase was going to be a whole heck of a lot more than 7% regardless.

Comment Which is more likely? (Score 2) 360

People deciding to be calm and logical and sacrificing for the good of humanity as a whole? (The opposite of the ignorance and greed and fear we see all around us.) Or some guy in a lab coat eventually inventing a quick technical fix?

Personally I think cold fusion (or a similarly improbable technological breakthrough like the sunlight->metal->hydrogen described in this article based solely on computer simulation) is by far the more likely of the two possibilities, so I find joy in reading stories like this one, and continue to hope that someday, one of them will come to fruition.

Comment Re:Sounds like (Score 1) 1229

The much talked about Terminator Technology was developed by a company called Delta & Pine that went broke and were bought out years ago. Who knows what they were planning to do with it. But the fact remains that neither that technique, nor any comparable technology has been commercialized but people lie and claim the corn planted across the country is sterile to scare people.

Can we at least agree that lying is bad?

Comment Re:We have very different definitions of "natural" (Score 1) 1229

I grew up in the middle of the American midwest, earned the money for my first computer working hot summers in cornfields, and if you don't want our (US) corn, just don't buy it! And don't buy South American soybeans (which are almost all GM).

The EU is a huge food importer, mostly to feed to livestock.

If you don't like the kinds of the food the rest of the world wants to grow, you could grow your own. Or you could eat a lot less meat. Nobody is going to come in and make you plant GM crops if you guys decide to stop importing it from across the globe.

And corn produces four times as much food per acre as wheat while using more (but not seven times as much) water. Which is why we grow so much of it over here. But once more, if you'd like to start growing your own food again instead of outsourcing to the western hemisphere, you can make your own decisions about whether you'd rather cut down more forests and plow more prairies for farmland or grow crops that produce more food on less land.

Comment Re:We have very different definitions of "natural" (Score 1) 1229

As far as I know are two ways to make a crop resistant to an herbicide. Either the way you describe, or substituting another enzyme that can do the same job as the one inhibited by the herbicide (IIRC the second is what has been done to produce crops resistant to roundup but I believe both have been used). I guess my point is that if you do either of those things in the absence of that specific herbicide the GM crops should perform a lot like the same variety without the transgene.

This discussion got started as a response to a fellow who was saying companies had engineered crops to do worse in the absence of specific herbicides (made by the same companies) than non-GM varieties. To me that's a very different thing from engineering plants to resist specific herbicides.

Comment Re:We have very different definitions of "natural" (Score 1) 1229

Thank you.

Let me start out by saying the parts I completely agree with. Modern breeds of most crops have been selected to identify varieties that use fertilizer efficiently, converting as much as possible of it into extra food instead of, say, longer stalks (an issue that crops up when you heavily fertilize older varieties of wheat and rice). So in the absence of fertilizer, older varieties developed prior to the development of cheap synthetic fertilizer will outperform varieties developed to take advantage of the fertilizer.

The trade off in investing energy in yield (usually in the form of starch and sugars) vs defense is a real one, and it wouldn't surprise me if there has been some accidental selection towards less investment in defense related compounds and more in yield during conventional breeding programs, since, as you point out, yield is a much easier thing for a plant breeder to measure. However this is where we part ways. I've read extensively on the small handful of traits introduced to plants by genetic engineering and none of them have been aimed at knocking out or reducing the plant's innate defenses. Maybe such a strategy might work (defining work as increasing yield), but if so, no one has successfully done so yet.

The original post I was replying to made it sound like plants had been crippled in order to require specific pesticides sold by the same company. Which would require an intentional act, not simply a focus on yield over immunity to disease and pests during the breeding process.

Comment Prohibited != Impossible (Score 1) 1229

As all slashdotters know, no one EVER violates IP restrictions.

More seriously, yes intellectual property law is broken. But the one great thing about patents is that they still expire (in reasonable lengths of time, unlike copyrights).

Right when it first became possible to patent hybrid crops there was a big rush by the seed companies to do just that. But to do that one of the requirements was that they deposit seed with the ATCC, and now you can order all the inbreds you'd need to make your own copies of those hybrids from the ATCC website (which yes costs some money) but once you have the seed in had you can happily propagate the inbred parents and produce your own hybrid seed from now until the sun burns out without paying anyone a dime. Of course your hybrid seed would be a coupe decades out of date, so it won't perform as well as modern ones (and that's the reason not many people do this). But it'd be yours free and clear of any patents on plant variants or transgenes.

Comment Re:Sounds like (Score 2, Informative) 1229

But for me the worse is the fact that they sell seeds such that the next generation is not fertile (will not grow). So you cannot just plant some of last year's crop, as farmers have done for millennia.

You're right that the technology to make such seeds has been developed (and patented). However no company is now, nor have they in the past, sold seeds genetically engineered to produce sterile offspring ("suicide seeds" "terminator technology" etc) and this is one of the most frustrating pieces of zombie misinformation to confront over and over again in the debate over GM crops.

There are patented seeds where you are not permitted to resow the seeds the next year (once more because of patents), but regardless of whether or not you think gene patents are a good idea (I do not), in the event of a series economic/social/natural disruption, farmers would just plant the seeds anyway and ignore the intellectual property laws.

I agree with you that selling plants that are designed to be sterile is indefensible on both pragmatic and ethical levels.

Comment Re:Sounds like (Score 3, Informative) 1229

By that logic evolution itself is impossible since no traits not already present in the population could ever emerge. Selective breeding can also capture and spread new traits that arise by spontaneous mutation (the same way natural selection drives evolution by acting on the same kinds of new variation). Breeders even have ways of speeding up the process called mutagenesis, to increase how frequently new mutations occur. Most are bad, some are good. Dwarf wheat -- which uses fertilizer much more effectively -- and red grapefruits are two example of new traits produced before the era of genetic engineering by using radiation to knock whole chunks of DNA out of chromosomes (a form of mutation that happens in the wild, but at lower rates, given the lower levels of background radiation).
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/28/science/28crop.html?pagewanted=print

The safety tests already required of GM crops in the US mean it already costs ~$150 million dollars to get a single new GM trait in a single crop approved for human consumption which is one of the reasons only a handful of giant companies like Monsanto are still in the business of engineering crops. You're right, that's still less than a pharmaceutical company would have to spend to get a drug all the way through regulatory approval, but it's a lot less than the laissez-faire modify whatever they like and release it into the food supply approach many people seem to think is going on.

Comment We have very different definitions of "natural" (Score 5, Informative) 1229

There is no natural (as in wild) corn anywhere in the world. The wild ancestor of corn, teosinte, can still be found in some places, but you would not have any luck trying to eat its seeds the way you would corn kernels. The beautiful photos illustration the vast genetic diversity of corn are all breeds of corn that have been under artificial selection for thousands of years by farmers from Chile to Canada.

You are correct that "The wheat and corn from 50 years ago is NOT genetically modified in the modern sense of the word" however I believe the point the GP was making is that the changes made by artificial selection were equivalent to, if not greater than, those that are now being produced with genetic modification "in the modern sense of the word."

The genome of B73, a completely un-genetically modified variety of corn, was published back in 2009 and I've had my head buried in it ever since. I've seen broken genes, moved genes, genes missing the sequences that should control when and where they are turned on, even frankenstein genes assembled from the pieces of other genes. All these changes occurred naturally in individual corn plants and are found today in B73 as the result of either artificial or natural selection.

For example, and yes, this is real, they make crops that have weaknesses so that you need to buy more pesticides of the kind they sell.

Citation needed. I know there are GM crops resistant to certain herbicides, but in the absence of those herbicides they grow identically to their unmodified siblings. I don't even know how an effect like the one you describe could be produced. But if you can back it up I will certainly look into it.

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