Where roses are mauve and zebrafish glow

The day your son asks for a genetically engineered glow-in-the dark zebra fish and your wife desires a mauve rose may be the day that public acceptance of plant and animal genetic engineering has finally arrived.

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded that a new variety of rose, genetically engineered to be an unusual shade of blue, does not pose a risk to the economy or ecosystems. This decision paves the way for the company, Florigene, to sell cut roses in the US. The mauve creation is based on the discovery by Davis-based biotech pioneer Calgene Inc, which isolated the "blue gene" from Petunia.
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Is genetic engineering for entertainment what it takes for biotechnology to be accepted by consumers?

Physicist and philosopher Freeman Dyson thinks so.

In a provocative lecture on TED.com, Dyson says that proliferation of glow-in-the-dark zebra fish, fruit cocktail trees (7 species on one tree -already very popular with backyard gardeners) or even a grow your own dog kit is exactly what it will take before biotechnology becomes accepted as part of the human condition.

"We should follow the model that has been so successful with the electronic industry." Dyson said. "What really turned computers into a great success in the world as a whole, was toys. As soon as computers became toys, when the kids could come home and play with them, then the industry took off. That has to happen with biotech."

We may believe this or even recognize that it is true, but if so, doesn't this vision condemn us to a kind of self-centeredness? Isn't it a declaration that most of our behavior is governed by an emotional response to pleasure and an acknowledgement that pursuit of entertainment is what truly drives us to action?

I would like to believe that most wealthy world citizens have more compassion, more imagination and more humanity than that. That we will soon wake up and applaud applications of biotechnology that have reduced the amount of insecticides in the environment or those that have the potential to save the lives of thousands of malnourished children.

Will such humanistic inventive applications of biotechnology ever appear as essential to consumers in the developed world as a lego set that self-assembles into a live cat? Are more glofish and strangely colored roses needed before we accept biotechnological advances in agriculture?

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The UCDA? Are they the ones without the revolving doors? (note for post edit.... "UC Department of Agriculture", which I guess is due to a brain shortcut which assumes a U* D is going to be UC Davis)

Interesting article but I did have to read this paragraph twice:

"We may believe this or even recognize that it is true, but if so, doesn't this vision condemn us to a kind of self-centeredness? Isn't it a declaration that most of our behavior is governed by an emotional response to pleasure and an acknowledgement that pursuit of entertainment is what truly drives us to action?"

If it IS true that persuit of pleasure is what stimulates us as a race the most, then how does acknowledging the truth condemn us more than the truth already had in our ignorance?

I think that you're right, we need to show people the useful applications of such science, purple roses are great if they are the gateway but being able to genetically alter plants to survive insects or build the better disease fighter, Why wouldn't you want that world?

I think another entry point for some people will be biohackers. I am seeing more and more biohacker collectives start up.

Kramer Scientific, we already have the plants that survive insects with less or no insecticide (Bt cotton for example) and other plants that are more nutritious for distribution as food aid (golden rice), but the lack of acceptance of these crops means they aren't used as much.

I think history has already shown us that coming from the altruistic perspective isn't working. Maybe once the technology is accepted for the silly reasons cultures will really appreciate it for the social-beneficial reasons.

The fruit cocktail trees seem to be the result of the comparatively low-tech grafting technique, not genetic engineering.

"Isn't it a declaration that most of our behavior is governed by an emotional response to pleasure and an acknowledgement that pursuit of entertainment is what truly drives us to action? ... I would like to believe that most wealthy world citizens have more compassion, more imagination and more humanity than that."

Why, yes, it is such a declaration. And, I, too would like to believe, etc.

But even a complete lay observer such as myself, an English prof. and miniscule farmer, can recognize that the opposition to GM technology is simply off the rails, ugly, irrational, hateful, and ignorant, and there's not a hell of a lot any of us can do about it.

Pam, if your nicely-done book can't do it, what can?

I'm referring specifically to things like this (go to the comments after reading the article):

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/10/19-6

By Mike Bendzela (not verified) on 19 Oct 2011 #permalink

Isn't it a declaration that most of our behavior is governed by an emotional response to pleasure and an acknowledgement that pursuit of entertainment is what truly drives us to action?

If life for most of our history as a species can be accurately described as "nasty, brutish, and short," then it makes sense evolution would shape us to indulge as much pleasure as possible; it has been fleeting and rare, up until now, after all.

Consider how freaked people were about In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) just a few years ago. Then they met some adorable test-tube babies and their thrilled parents. End of hassle, permanently.

Mauve roses will help not by being trivial but by being familiar. The tech will be garden-shed normal. THATâs what leads to acceptance.

By Stewart Brand (not verified) on 20 Oct 2011 #permalink

Genetic engineering of food crops will be embraced by the general population IF and WHEN long term, independent SAFETY STUDIES have PROVEN THEIR SAFETY, particularly when short term research shows significant ORGAN DAMAGE and INFERTILITY.

By R. Mackay (not verified) on 22 Oct 2011 #permalink

Complaints about genetic engineering of food crops will persist as long as there are people for whom simple concepts such as the proper use of caps lock escapes their grasp.

This is good information
, but I am disappointed that it has been approved by the USDA. It makes me wonder who stands to gain most out of this, because what really is wrong with the natural plants that we have now.

I think it is very interesting that this is now an industry. The other day I was at the pet store and saw some glow in the dark fish with a copyright symbols after their name. I don't think it's right to genetically engineer these animals because they often die sooner, or have many health complications. For example the tiny dogs that are being sold now. Many of these dogs have very serious heart issues at very young ages, and many die before they make it to the store. I think that sometimes people just need to be happy with what nature's given them and not try and change it.