[eDebate] Why I love the Genetics topic area so much

scottelliott at grandecom.net scottelliott
Wed Apr 11 18:52:06 CDT 2007


This pretty much sums up why I love this topic area--just more interesting than
another Mid-East or Proliferation debate:

Scientists, Hawaiians Debate Taro Plan
Tuesday, April 3, 2007 7:02 PM EDT
The Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) ? Both scientists and Native Hawaiians want to save the ancient
taro plant from an uncertain future, but they strongly disagree on whether
genetic modification is the answer.

Hawaiians believe the taro, revered as an ancestor of the Hawaiian people,
should not be altered. Taro, tall and broad-leafed, rises from paddy-like
patches around the islands. Its roots are ground into purplish poi, a glutinous
substance avoided by some but an essential ingredient at Hawaiian luaus.

Researchers say the only way to protect traditional taro from widespread modern
plant diseases is to insert resistant genes from rice, wheat and grape crops,
altering the basic structure of the plant.

State lawmakers have stalled a bill sought by many Hawaiians that would have
placed a statewide moratorium on genetic modification of taro for 10 years.

"How bad do things have to get before those who are anti-genetic modification
will admit that taro needs help?" asked Susan Miyasaka, a researcher at the
University of Hawaii-Hilo, who has been testing Chinese taro breeds. "The taro
farmers are having trouble making ends meet."

About 50 protesters who gathered at a rally at the state Capitol on Friday said
they don't want the so-called help that scientists say they can provide.

They question whether genetic modification will be any more effective than
traditional crossbreeding techniques, and they worry that genetically modified
crops could contaminate the traditional Hawaiian taro breeds.

For some of the demonstrators, the issue is about preserving the purity of the
taro rather than the scientific merits of genetic modification.

"What we're really angry about is that the biotech industry has turned this into
a genetic modification issue," said Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte. "This is
about us protecting our family member."

According to Hawaiian legend, the cosmic first couple gave birth to a stillborn
child, Haloa, from whose gnarled body sprang the broad-leafed plant whose roots
are made into poi. The Hawaiian people, it is believed, came from a second
brother, making the plant part of their common ancestry.

Since ancient Hawaiian times, taro yields have dropped from 48,000 pounds per
acre to 11,000 pounds per acre, Miyasaka said. Her research with preliminary
tests has shown that her genetically modified Chinese taro is resistant to leaf
blight, and she hopes to begin greenhouse trials soon.

The University of Hawaii has agreed not to do research on Hawaiian types of
taro, and it will be careful to prevent their experimental taro from breeding
with native varieties, said Stephanie Whalen, president and director of the
Hawaii Agriculture Research Center.

But scientists see no harm in continuing taro research.

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