Category Archives: Science/Technology

A Bit About GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)

I recently received an email from a sister-in-law who asked about my views of GMO.  This sister-in-law, who has spent many years helping out people in Africa raising food, has a doctor’s degree in agricultural economics from MSU. Her email started me thinking about my own views of GMO and I would like to share them with people who are kind enough to read my blog.

First, I want to sum up my thinking and my position on the matter.  In the Plantae Kingdom (plants) but not necessarily in the Animalia Kingdom (animals) it is appropriate to transfer genes from from one organism to another AS LONG AS THEY ARE IN THE SAME FAMILY!  For example, when it comes to Roundup Ready corn, which is resistant to the glyphosate herbicide, GMO is OK.  Here, in fact, genes were taken from the same species, which is corn, Zea Mays (Genus: Zea, Species: Mays) and transfered to the same species.  I also believe it is OK to transfer between different species and genus, as long as the are in the same family.  As an example here of the meaning of species, genus and family let’s look at the tomato and potato.  First, they both belong to the same family, which is nightshade (Solanaceae), However, the tomato belongs to the Lycopersicon genus while the potato to the Solanum genus.  However, I do believe there are reports of the two crossing naturally, although that is rare.  I do know you can graft a tomato plant on to a potato plant.  Because of this, I don’t feel there is a problem taking, say the late blight resistant gene from a potato and splicing it into a tomato variety.

Now lets still discuss the potato and what I see is bad GMO.

Potatoes have a big insect problem–the Colorado Potato Beetle.  They can devastate a crop if something isn’t done.  About 20 years ago Monsanto developed the New Leaf potato which was a GMO since they took a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, also known as Bt, and stuck it into a Russet Burbank potato.(By the way, bacteria are not only in a completely different family, they are in a completely different kingdom, the Eubacteria Kingdom!)  This gene produced a protein that worked in some insect’s gut, like the Colorado Potato Beetles, to kill it.  It did work and I even tried it out.  The problem I discovered was that my tummy didn’t feel good after eating the potatoes–they seemed to just sit there.  I wasn’t alone.  Michael Pollan who wrote a best selling book “The Botany of Desire” reported similar digestive problems.  Well, after a few years, when McDonald stopped buying Bt potatoes, the New Leaf was no longer being bred.  Obviously Michael and I weren’t the only ones who reported this.

While they gave up on Bt in potatoes, it is still going big in corn–including sweet corn.  I must tell you right off — we don’t use any GMO in any of the fruit or vegetables we grow and sell.  However, much of the sweet corn in the market, especially from down south where corn earworm is a huge problem, is Bt corn.  Also, Bt field corn is relatively common but since European countries won’t buy it, it hasn’t completely taken over the market.  One interesting note among dairy and cattle farmers.  It has been reported from some of them that if a Bt field of corn is planted next to a normal field of corn and animals are let loose in them, they won’t touch the Bt corn until all the regular corn is gone!

I know all of this makes the issue of GMO corn more complicated than ever, but if you think about it, it does make sense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There will be signs in the sky this year starting real soon…

Things are really starting to hop out there in the sky—things you might not even have to wait until dark to see…

First off, you may have heard about the Great Comet ISON which, come fall, may be a startlingly bright comet that you won’t have to wait until night to see.  It is possible that it will even brighten up the sky on a bright sunny day!  At night, it just may light up the landscape so much you will think that, if you are out in the boonies on a clear night, there is an extraordinarily bright full moon out–at least until you look up at the sky and see the comet!

Also coming up in March keep a look for the Comet Pan-STARRS since it is expected to become visible to the naked eye at night.

And then right now the Green Comet, also called Comet Lemmon, is already visible in the southern hemisphere (South America, Australia, Southern Africa) and we will be able to see it here in April.  This comet appears greenish because it is full of the poison gas cyanogen, which is related to cyanide.

Now if that isn’t enough an asteroid is headed our way and although it isn’t expected to hit the surface of the earth, they are sure it will come closer than the communication satellites.  These satellites include those owned by Direct TV and Dish Network.  These satellites also include the GPS satellites and the weather satellites.  Astronomers are really excited about this as you can tell from this headline comment on the website: SpaceWeather.com

RECORD-SETTING ASTEROID FLYBY: On Feb. 15th an asteroid about half the size of a football field will fly past Earth closer than many man-made satellites. Since regular sky surveys began in the 1990s, astronomers have never seen an object so big come so close to our planet.

 

 

 

 

 

Today We are in the Heart of that short January Thaw I Mentioned in My Last Post

It’s 7:13AM on January 12 and its 50F outside.  Tomorrow (Sunday) it is forecast to be in the 20s all day as the thaw quickly comes to a halt.  But then what.  In many years we would be talking about below to much below normal temperatures for at least a week, normally longer.  Well, it looks like we will have normal to a tad warmer than normal temps for at least a week starting on Monday.  Well, is something up?  Right now it’s indeterminate.  We should have a better idea in a few days…

Thursday we started pruning our apple trees.  We don’t touch the peaches before late March since pruning seems to make peach trees more susceptible to low temperatures.  We have purchased most of our seeds for the year but we still need growing mix (potting soil) so we can start planting our onions fairly soon and then our peppers–peppers germinate and grow slowly so they need to be started early.

The following link is to my article in Make Magazine on the construction of a light stand we built that helps with our starting plants. This is the second light stand we built and if we can find more room for it, we will likely make another one soon.  BTW, while I wrote the article, took most of the photos and did the drawings, my son Matthew designed it and did most of the construction.  These light stands have been a great help for us.

HOW TO MAKE OUR LIGHT STAND FOR STARTING PLANTS

BTW, if you are a do-it-yourselfer and into making just about anything, from a wood box to an advanced robot, I recommend that you subscribe to Make Magazine.  Make magazine only comes out 4 times a year and has a durable binding which makes it perfect for putting on a bookshelf and use as a reference.  I have written several articles for Make and you can be assured they really do a great job in editing–they actually check out just about everything.  This is unusual for magazines today.  Make is a great magazine!  No doubt about it!

 

 

Warning! Don’t Pick Up and Use a Jump Drive You Find!

I have heard reports of people finding jump drives in parking lots, on sidewalks and other public places and then using them in their computer.  There is a good chance that the jump drive was a plant by someone who wants to spread computer viruses.  The computer virus program in the jump drive is so small that you your computer will be infected no matter how quick you are pulling the jump drive out!

Warning! Don’t Fall For the Sea Salt Hype!

 

I’m writing this to inform people that when you buy sea salt not only is it throwing money in the garbage (according to the Mayo Clinic), but it may be harmful!  To understand why, one must understand how sea salt is made.  Really simply put, seawater is evaporated and what is left is sea salt.  The logic for the hype is that sea salt contains more needed nutrients than just sodium chloride (pure salt).  This is true but dried out sewer water contains more needed nutrients as well!  Let’s face it, the sea today is basically nothing but extremely diluted sewer water since many countries dump their waste (human and industrial) directly into the sea without any treatment. Happily, the US and many other countries do treat the waste water today somewhat before dumping it in the ocean.  Even these countries didn’t do this a hundred years ago and the junk is still in the water. The EPA has put out warnings about eating swordfish and some other fish high up on the food chain since they may contain harmful amounts of mercury.  Swordfish, you see, eat smaller fish, which eat smaller fish yet, which then eat mostly plankton–you see they concentrate the mercury and other potentially harmful elements.  Remember how sea salt is made?  It is a process that basically concentrates seawater itself!  Seawater in the open ocean would be fine to drink if you just got rid of the salt.  However, when you concentrate modern seawater you wind up with elements that may be harmful.  Keep in mind the radioactivity they found in tunas which was believed to come from the March 11th 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster triggered by that huge earthquake and resultant tsunami.

 

Now you are probably wondering about regular table salt, the type you buy in small cylindrical blue containers with a girl carrying an umbrella.  Where does that salt come from?  From evaporated seawater. “So what’s the difference?”, you might ask.   Oh, I forgot to mention that regular table salt comes from ancient seas that had no man made pollution.  With the sun beating down, and no outlet to the major oceans because of shifting continents, these ancient seas dried up and created salt deposits.  They are now mined in salt mines.  Michigan now produces more salt than any other state with New York coming in a distant second.  Much of this salt goes directly into road salt.  With table salt, the mined salt is purified so it is nearly 100% sodium chloride and then ground up fine and then is sold as iodized (potassium iodine added) or non-iodized.  Iodine is a necessary element that the body needs.  Why do they purify the salt from ancient seas?  Well, you see, all seawater–even the ancient stuff–has traces of every non-gaseous natural element in existence — from lithium (Atomic Number 3) to uranium (Atomic Number 92).  This includes many necessary elements but also things such heavy metals (including arsenic).  If you don’t care about this (and I really don’t) and want pure ancient sea salt get your self some clean road salt and grind it up.  You won’t only save money you will get yourself what you really want when you hear about sea salt!  (BTW, for sanitary reasons and if you are serious about this, I would purchase large chunks of mined salt and then rinse them off, let dry and then grind them.  Even better yet, keep buying those little blue containers of salt and eat a balanced meal!)

The Answer To My Book Giveaway Question–What is a Sidewinder Thingamajig?

My book “Snowball Launchers, Giant Pumpkin Growers and other COOL CONTRAPTIONS” has a project on making my Sidewinder Thingamajig.  What does the gizmo do?  Well, briefly it detects shortwave infrared waves!  Shortwave infrared waves are used by most remote control units (also referred to as “thingies”)  One purpose of the Sidewinder Thingamajig is to check if the remote control is working.  If it is and it is pointed at the thingamajig, a red LED will light.  Why is it called Sidewinder Thingamajig?  Well, the Sidewinder Rattler detects its prey by sensing the infrared radiation all warm blooded animals give off.  One caveat in my projects name: the Sidewinder Rattler is more sensitive to long wave infrared radiation and not as sensitive to shorter wavelength, which is the type the Sidewinder Thingamajig is most sensitive to.  Another device is also called a Sidewinder–it is the Sidewinder missile which is used to tract down and destroy jet airplanes.  Jet engines produces lots of heat which produces lots of infrared radiation.  The Sidewinder missile enters the exhaust pipe of the engine and blows the engine up.  Flares are used as a defense measure to confuse the missile’s electronic systems.  By the way, the Sidewinder Thingamajig might just make a great starting point for a Science Fair project!