Sunday, November 23, 2014

Dirge of a Dying Creek

Dr Abe V Rotor 
The afternoon sun casts an aura of the creek's once beautiful state with trees and shrubs lining its banks. Now the creek is virtually dead - biologically. Note highly polluted water and dumped quarry materials blocking the natural waterway. (Parallel Aurora Blvd, QC)  
Balete or Strangler's Fig clings on an adobe rock cliff.
Views of middle stream, and upper stream to the east. The creek is now an open sewer, ugly, obnoxious 

Outgrowth extends over the creek as if to hide its pathetic condition and man's indifference from public view, 

Just across the creek to the north lies a man-made pond of the Oasis - serene and aesthetic, except the foul air of Carbon Dioxide, Hydrogen Sulfide, methane, ammonia and other gases, being emitted by the nearby creek
Dirge of a Dying Creek                   
Once upon a time, so the story goes, clouds gather 
from the sea and land, cumulus to nimbus,
falling as rain, drenching the trees and grass and all,
and down the lake and river and field it goes. 

I was born this way, like my kin, many miles away,
children of Pasig River, seat of a civilization,
the artery of vast Laguna Lake and historic Manila Bay,
and I, a tributary of this magnificent creation.     

I lived in the stories of Balagtas the poet laureate,
in Rizal's novels, Abelardo's Kundiman song,
I throbbed with the happy heart of a living system,  
like the Rhine, Danube, Nile and Mekong.

I am part of history, obedient to man and nature's will,
I gave him clean water and fish, I sang lullaby;
laughed with the children at play under my care,
through generations and time sweetly went by. 

Seasons come and go, the story goes on - ad infinitum -
but where are the birds that herald habagat?
where have all the children gone after class, in summer?
reflection on my water, green carpet on my rock?

I am dying, dear mother, I long for you and my kin,
I choke with debris, laden with waste matter,
my banks are no more, concrete walls have taken over,
I am dying mother -  but my mother doesn't answer;  
my mother doesn't answer.  ~     

Dirge in the Western Sky

Dr Abe V Rotor

 Fiery sunset over South China Sea 

The night has a thousand eyes,
bright and twinkling in song;
but one dreary night one cries
out, the cry of Armageddon.

No song can bring back the moon
and the stars - they've died out
under a blanket of doom
where spirits roam about.

No other but his own death,
and the earth's, man is doomed;
masked by power and wealth,
softly he digs his own tomb. ~

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Genetic Pollution - Littering of Engineered Genes

Dr Abe V Rotor Professor in biology, UST Graduate School; 2004 Gintong Aklat Award winner in Natural Science for his book, The Living with Nature Handbook; and National Book Award winner 2008, Living with Nature in our Times.

Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class Monday to Friday
Lecture on Bioethics in biology, De La Salle University Dasmariñas.
 Genetically modified sea creatures, painting in acrylic by AVR

Genetic engineering is creating genes and genetic materials that threaten to pollute natural genetic pools worldwide. It actually has begun. Once an organism acquires a foreign gene - now a GMO (genetically modified organism) - it becomes a permanent source of genetic contamination and pollution.
     In nature the path of gene transfer is precise and specific along parental lineage and is strictly exclusive within the species.  But not until man was able to crack the code of heredity in the later part of the last century.

     With biotechnology today we can now modify the genetic material of an organism, making it possible to transfer genes across barriers that normally separate species, families, classes, phyla and sub-kingdoms. A classical example - Bt corn, the first commercial GMO - was created by transferring a gene of a bacterium (Bacillus thuringiensis, which belongs to Subkingdom Archaebacteria) to corn (Subkingdom Plantae). Never in history, in all man’s attempts, has this feat of combining genetic characters of two extremely unrelated organisms – a prokaryote (an organism with unorganized nucleus, a characteristic of bacteria) and a eukaryote (one with well-organized nucleus, characteristic of higher life forms) - achieved.

     Bt corn has paved the way to the production of more GMOs. Genetically engineered potato, soybean, and tomato are now freely planted on two-thirds of US farms and are pouring out into millions of small farms over the world.

      This new corn was engineered in the laboratory on the premise of reducing dependence on costly and hazardous chemical pesticides, by inserting into the corn genetic composition an insect-repelling protein snipped from the DNA of Bacillus thuringiensis, a bacterium known to cause epidemic among caterpillars. The new corn, it is claimed by its creators, has acquired the resistance from the bacterium to protect the corn crop against the destructive corn borer (Pyrausta nobilales), corn earworm (Heliothes armigera), and other Lepidopterans, the family of silkworm, butterflies and moths.

      What the creators of this “Franken crop” (named after Frankenstein, a novel written by Shelley in the early 18th century about a laboratory-made monster) are boasting about is that, “Just leave the corn out there on the field and it will defend itself against the onslaught of pest.”  Thus there is no need of spraying hazardous pesticide on the corn crop.

      Undoubtedly the world is entering into another Agricultural Revolution, which, unlike in the past two agricultural revolutions (expansion of the frontiers of production, and increased production through the advancement in science technology, respectively) is highly controversial and that it potentially carries long-term global consequences more potent than any weapon of war.
     You can stop splitting the atom; you can stop visiting the moon; you can stop using aerosols; you may even decide not to kill an entire population by the use of few bombs. But you can not recall a new form of life. Once you have constructed a viable cell carrying a plasmid DNA into which a piece of  DNA has been spliced, it will survive you and your children’s children. An irreversible attack on the biosphere is something unheard of, so unthinkable to previous generations, that I could only wish that mine had not been guilty of.
                                                                                 (Erwin Chargoff as cited by Solangi and Perilla)
The GMO Controversy, Ad Veritatem
      Why Genetic engineering in the first place?

      Many scientists and leaders believe that it is the ultimate solution to the burgeoning problems of providing a spiraling population, now 6.1 billion people, with adequate food and nutrition, better health and living conditions.  Here is the rationale of their contention.

1.     Transgenic animals - With the initial success of cloning animals (Dolly the sheep is the first cloned animal), the idea to produce more transgenic animals in order to improve breeds and increase production of meat, milk and other animal products. The long list includes cows, sheep, and goats, which are very important sources of animal protein in most countries.

     These  transgenic animals are likely to “pollute” the natural gene pool of non-transgenic animals as they mate and produce offspring on the farm and in the wild.  As their offspring reproduce – so with the succeeding generations -  the transmission and spread of the engineered genes becomes unstoppable.  

2.     Increased crop production – Genetically engineered plants improve harvest through selection and combination of yield-enhancing genes, a process that cannot be done by conventional means. GM crops are also tailored for marginal lands, such as those affected by salinity, and prone to drought and other calamities.

     Like transgenic animals, the transfer of pollen of GE-plants to non-GE  plants will definitely contaminate the natural gene pool of the latter, in effect creating hybrids of varying combinations of genes of both GE-plants and non-GE plants. 

3.     Improved Nutrition – According to the GM proponents, the staple crops of the world, mainly rice, wheat and corn, can be improved not only in yield but in nutritional value as well by packing more proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.  GE-soybeans have been modified to contain more protein, while GE-rice presently being developed at IRRI contains carotene and vitamins that prevent blindness. Likewise increasing iron content in plants through genetic engineering could be the answer in preventing anemia.

     There will come a time when it becomes difficult and uncertain to measure the nutrient value of plants, say soybean contaminated with genetically engineered soybean. What is the protein content of a GE- and non-GE soybean hybrid on the third generation?  We might be taking in from GE-crops nutrients, vitamins, minerals and the like, which our body may not actually need – or compatible of, thus resulting to allergy.

     Based on the principles of crop production, increased protein, carbohydrate, or oil, in these GE-crops means corollary increase in soil nutrient requirements.  Which means there will be need for subsidy in terms of  fertilizers, pesticides, and the like.  It is possible that these GE-plants are no longer adapted to the habitat of their original kin – thus requiring the revision of our present knowledge in biology and agriculture. 

4.     Better health – Biopharming is the newest application of genetic engineering in the field of medicine and pharmacology.  By splicing into food plants certain drug genes, we will be hitting two birds with one stone, so to speak. Vaccine-containing food plants will simplify delivery and administration of drugs. We will simply eat a biopharmed plant that contains a specific drug and get well from an ailment as a result of the implanted gene. People would be saved from costly medicine and many will vastly benefit from this new natural healing technology.

     But how can we measure the dosage of the implanted drug?  In the first place, how do we know if a plant we are eating contains drugs, and what kind of drugs are these? By introducing unnecessary drugs into our body unknowingly, the effect may prove harmful.  What is the idea of “curing a disease” which you do not have?

5.     Fewer chemicals – In Bt corn the built-in resistance to certain insects means lower pesticide requirement, thus lesser cost of production and a healthier environment. This claim also applies to herbicide-resistant crops.  With this premise GE will ultimately revolutionize plant pathology with the same principle as applied in medicine. The idea is to produce genetically engineered plants to resist deadly pathogens such as tungro in rice, ring spot in papaya, rust in cereals, and the like.

     There is no permanent resistance in organisms – for both host and pathogen.  Pests – from virus to bacteria, insects to nematodes – develop biological specialization, which means that resistance can be developed in the genes of these pests by continuous mutation. On the part of a host plant or animal, there is such a thing as “genetic decline”.  For example hybrid corn should not be planted twice – much less thrice – over.  It is because its hybrid vigor deteriorates through repeated planting. Therefore, Bt corn may be resistant to corn borer now, but not in next year or later, for both reasons.

6.     Conservation – In Jurassic Park, the movie showed the possibility to re-create an extinct animal from its DNA fossil. With genetic engineering, we might be able to propagate endangered species outside of their natural habitat, and even revive the sleeping genie in the DNA of long lost species. A greater part of this contention is fiction.  We doubt if we will ever succeed in resurrecting an organism, which has been extinct for thousands, if not millions of years ago, out of its DNA in its fossil.

     Nature has its way of preserving ancient organisms.  Blue green algae like Spirulina is three billions years old and it has remained virtually unchanged. The Coelacanth fish thought to have been extinct 60 millions years ago is very much alive at the craggy sea floor of Madagascar. Science has just  barely scratched the surface in understanding “living” fossils.  It seems very remote to resurrect past organisms from their fossil remains.

The Coming Age of GMO

     Let us look into the following scenarios:

·        In the United States, borrowed genes from Brazil nut to increase the amino acid content resulted in the development of genetically modified soybean. The resulting soybean now carries higher amino acid all right, but in churns out also chemicals that can trigger allergies to nut-sensitive consumers.

·        “Down with the clown,” protested farmers at McDonalds stores in France against GM beef and potato. Although the European Union has blocked importation of some GM products, it now requires foods that contain engineered DNA to be labeled as such.

·        US sale of GM seeds by Monsanto (US) and Novartis (Swiss producer of Gerber baby foods) rose from $75 million to $ 1.5 B in the last five years, and GM technology is just beginning. Million of hectares are now growing genetically changed seeds of various crops in the US. 

·        Around 30 % of US dairy cows are injected with the recombinant bovine growth hormone that boosts the production of milk. The hormone is made with genetically engineered bacteria. And 75% of all cheese contains chymosin that is produced with bacteria that have been genetically engineered.

·        Now consider these: tomatoes juice from tomatoes containing enzymes from the arctic flounder - an attempt to help crops withstand low temperature; pork loins from hogs treated with human growth hormones to help them get bigger faster; and squash inoculated with watermelon-virus genes to make the squash virus resistant.

·        Corn that contains a firefly gene provides a phosphorescent marker even when mixed with other foods. Another marker, a gene-carrying green phosphorescent in jellyfish transferred in mice, makes mice glow in the dark.

·        The popularity of BT tomato (“FlavrSavr”), the first genetically altered food crop, ignited a chain of other GM crops from high protein beans and grains, caffeine less coffee beans, potato that soaks up less fat during frying, to strawberry with more natural sugar. And there are dozens of gene-spliced food crops in laboratories and greenhouses ready to be released. These include squash, melon, carrots, onions, peppers, apples and the like.

 Destruction of the coral reef with introduced GMO predators which disturbed the ecological balance.  Acrylic painting by AVR

     Why does it appear easy for government to allow the production and distribution of genetically engineered plants and animals? In the US for one the government sees GM components as mere additives. That is why, virtually anyone can load a fruit, vegetable baby food, or any simple meal with DNA engineered tricks. Arroz caldo from GM rice with borrowed chicken gene, anyone?

     If you don’t see butterflies in the garden anymore that is reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s  “Silent Spring”, blame it to the Bt in corn or rice.  The  bacterium is a scourge to insects belonging to order Lepidoptera which includes one of the world’s best known and most loved insects, the flamboyant orange-and-black monarch butterflies which can travel an incredible distance of 1,600 miles in their migratory flight. The message of the monarch butterflies is clear: Even the most well intentioned biological technologies are without any risk.

     Remember Dolly, the sheep that became famous as the first cloned animal?  She aged rapidly, faster than her parent and died early. It is because clones live only the remaining years of their parent’s lives. They grow old before their time. And if any human being might like to get cloned, he should think twice. He will live and end up with a different world, missing the joys of childhood, the discovery in adolescence, the adventures of youth, responsibility in adulthood, and fulfillment in ripe age. The life of a cloned human being is likely one that is biological - birth, growth and senility packed in a small time capsule – just like Dolly, the sheep.  

      Genetic pollution is characterized in these premises: 

1.       The GE organisms will become a permanent source of genetic contamination and pollution, which will be recycled virtually without end.

2.       New bacteria, viruses, prions (pathogenic proteins) and other pathogens, are more virulent, not only by their infective nature, but through by mutation or reactivation of dormant and harmless ones.

3.       Antibiotic resistant makers (ARMs) in GM crops can be transferred to other bacteria, including the harmful ones. Right now we are unwittingly creating resistant bacteria through abuse of antibiotics. These resistant bacteria could become gene sources of virulent forms.

4.       Resistance is developed among populations of insects, pathogens, insects and weeds under field condition as engineered genes are indiscriminately disseminated. While the pest-resistant Bt cotton or the Bt corn remain the same, the pests themselves are continuously undergoing biological specialization, thus, after repeated planting, the Bt crop is overtaken by the newly acquired resistance of the pest rendering the crop susceptible like any ordinary corn.

5.       GMOs may exhibit increased allergenic tendencies, toxicity, or altered nutritional value. They may also exhibit mutations, which are errors that can occur in the sequence or reading of the DNA within a cell. Altering regulatory functions may create new components or alter levels of existing components of an organism.

6.       Genetic manipulation often introduces proteins from organisms never used as foods, many of which could be a source of new allergens.

7.       Resistance genes, often used as markers to select transgenic cells, may transfer to people or other organisms and aggravate health problems.  Viral genes in plants engineered for virus resistance may recombine with invading microbes to produce new and more virulent hybrids. Through the same process, superweeds can evolve, and spread to neighboring fields and upset environmental balance.

8.       Pest resistance results through continued exposure to crops that make their own pesticides, causing pests to become immune and render the toxin ineffective.

Mechanics of Genetic Pollution

      Let us examine how a gene or a gene material can pollute the natural genetic composition of species. First, let me point out that all living things are made up of a complex genetic structure recently identified as DNA (Deoxyribose nucleic acid), which are organized into genes.  It is the gene that is responsible in encoding proteins that control the expression of a trait in the organism. Traits are transmitted by parents to their offspring. They range from color of skin to intelligence of an individual. Tallness and shortness among garden pea plants were among the genetic traits experimented by Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics, some two hundred years ago.

     In the open field the pollen of Bt corn is disseminated by wind, insects, among other means.  Even for several kilometers away, the pollen of this GMO can effectively pollinate and fertilize cornfields irrespective of variety.  In the process the transmitted Bt component now becomes a permanent genetic material in the polluted corn, which is the immediate offspring.  The offspring will in turn, transmit the borrowed gene to the next generation.  As the process is repeated season in and out, the Bt pollen is indiscriminately scattered.  Here is one kind of pollution that cannot just be picked up and burned, or contained and detoxified.  There is virtually no end to genetic pollution since it is transferred through gametes, even with just one of the combining gamete carries the gene-pollutant.    
     This new development opens a controversy that touches morality and ethics. It opens a floodgate for researchers to create new types, varieties, hybrids, and even new organisms, which all the more become a serious ethico-moral matter.

Cross-species Breeding

       There have been countless attempts to create an organism by breeding two different organisms with little success. The most celebrated case is the mule, which is the offspring of an ass and a mare, or a horse and a she-ass.  But the mule is incapable of self-perpetuation, and must therefore depend on the inter-crossing of its two different parents to create one.

     Similar limited success is shown in zebronkey, a cross of the zebra a donkey, and peapple (pear and apple). Unlike the mule, the zebronkey is a freak, which means that was breed entirely by chance, so with the peapple.  In the case of plants, they can be propagated by vegetative means, such as  grafting and budding, similarly by cutting and marcotting, and in the process preserve the new genetic composition.  This is not the case with higher animals.

     These cases illustrate how nature protects organisms from the incursion of genes outside their own kind, a key to keep the integrity of the species.  In short, this is how strict nature’s genetic housekeeping is.  As a general rule, genes just cannot be littered around, and even if organisms happen to pick them up, these genes do not pollute their genetic composition. Even the dog which is openly bred resulting in many breeds today, will remain as a dog, Canis domesticus. This is true with every living species. 

The Case of the Living Christmas Tree

      In an agro-industrial fair I attended when I was a student, I was amazed to see a “living Christmas Tree.” On closer examination the tree is a full grown eggplant, breast high, its branches were each of a kind – tomato, pepper, potato, and tobacco. Except the tobacco and potato, surprisingly the branches had fruits on them. The specimen drew a lot of curiosity especially on my part who grew up on the farm and had not seen one occurring in nature.

     “It is an old technique,” the horticulture professor who made the living potpourri explained, “You can graft plants that are genetically compatible.  All these plants joined together belong to one family – Solanaceace.”

     It means then that certain members of a family can be vegetatively grown together without becoming genetically altered. So the tomato branch produces tomato fruits which taste exactly like tomato. This is the same with the eggplant branch.

     Again, this is to illustrate that Nature has its own safety mechanism among plants, as well as animals and the simpler forms of life, like algae – so that the genes are not altered in the open and in the wild through cell-to-cell contact. Thus in the field different plants can live together without “genetically polluting” each another.

     Through vegetative means of reproduction, compatibility is within the variety or species as a rule. Among species it is only possible to a limited extent, those belonging to the same family. Budding among the members of the citrus family (Rutaceae) is a common horticultural practice. So with members of the cucurbit family (Cucurbitaceae).  One application of this practice of inter species grafting is between the kondol (as stock because of its sturdiness) and watermelon as scion. This graft extends the longevity of the watermelon so that it can produce more fruits even through off-season when the commodity is more profitable. 

Genetic Engineering Versus Tissue-Organ Transplantation

     The difference of genetic engineering with tissue-organ transplantation is that GE introduces a gene, or genes, or a snip or a ribbon of DNA, into a recipient. While in the latter, there is no gene or genetic material involved in the process. Analogously, a tissue or an organ is the scion while the recipient is the stock, if we were to compare the process with the grafting of mango.

         The two parts – the transplant and the recipient, the stock and scion – will never mix genetically, that is, each part will carry their respective sets of genes. That is why, if you have a paho mango (stock) grafted with carabao mango (scion), the fruit which develops from the scion will be of the carabao variety, while any fruit emanating from the stock (if it is not removed) will be paho.     

        Compatibility is between and among their cells, and not in their genes or DNA – unlike in genetic engineering. What is compatible in tissue-organ transplantation is in the way their cells assume physiologic activities like growth and development, metabolism, response to stimuli, and to a certain extent, reproduction. The transplanted tissue or organ is now part of the recipient organism, which with the new part, can function more efficiently, and perhaps save it from destruction or death. 

     Genetic pollution is in its early stage, but like the conventional types of pollution - domestic and industrial – it is expected to grow worse as progress continues.

      These are vital considerations to ponder:

1.     Genetic pollution is the by-product of genetic engineering.  The combination of genes to create desired traits is virtually limitless.  Possibilities are everywhere because of man’s craving for new things that living organisms can give – from antibiotics to increased production of food. In the process these engineered genes can be indiscriminately spread and picked up by other organisms.

2.     The virtually endless possibilities in Genetic Engineering do not only create new characters – it can lead to the development of new life forms heretofore unknown in the natural world. There is a possibility that these life forms will not fit into the natural order and classification of living things.

3.     Genetic Engineering in the hands of terrorists and irresponsible persons is extremely dangerous.  Historically, biological warfare aims at creating virulent forms of pathogens directed to man, his livestock and crops. The benefits of this new science can be overshadowed by the dangers it poses.

4.     Genetic engineering destroys the ecosystems. It will disturb the integrity of the food web and food pyramid. Gene pollution could expand to a proportion that does not only affect particular species of organism and their population, and the ecosystem.

5.     Once as ecosystem such as a lake or a forest is disturbed, it losses homeostasis. Genetically engineered organisms become more dependent on humans, necessitating man’s intervention and management that is indeed very expensive. Even then, it cannot efficiently simulate homeostasis – dynamic balance which only nature can provide.

6.     Genetic pollution is going to be deleterious to health of the individual and the human population.  If this is so then we disturb the working of our institutions and the society as a whole.

7.     Genetic pollution will disturb if not change the course of evolution.  Will humankind ultimately take the path of “auto-evolution”?  And will it set also the direction and path of evolution of other living creatures?  To what extent can we take into our hands Creation, the role of God and only God?

             In support of deployment of genetically engineered organisms and products, numerous arguments are easily shown to be fallacious.  (Solangi AH and MV Perilla, Some Concerns on GMOs, Ad Veritatem 2002)

      The first fallacy - Some scientists advance arguments which dispose researchers, producers and others to support the current rapid deployment of genetically engineered life forms.

     The second fallacy - Modification of genomes occurs regularly through biological process such as natural selection, and transfer of genes through viral means.

     The third fallacy - Genomes of domestic plants or animals are vast complexes of genetic material. Modification of genomes through insertion of one or few genes is an extremely small change. Thus, it is acceptable for us to engineer such changes.

     The fourth fallacy - If we don’t introduce technologies based on genetic engineering other people in other countries will do it, thus, it is acceptable perhaps even necessary for us to do so.

 A fifth fallacy - On behalf of rapidly going deployment of technologies based on genetic engineering, we are forced to do so as a consequence of economic factors.

     Solangi and Perilla continued, and I quote:

1.     Genetic engineering (GE) as applied to crops is a very powerful tool for improving (but not increasing) food production. This is because crops become either pest resistant or pesticide-resistant or both, resulting in less damage and therefore higher yet yields.

2.     The hazards of GMOs to biodiversity, food safety, human and animal health, and demand a moratorium on environmental releases in accordance with the precautionary principle.

3.     GE is not the best method for improving food production. It does not increase yield; it endangers the environment; and it does not reduce poverty of the poor nations.

4.     The adverse effects of eating genetically modified (GM) food are unknown. Existing evidence shows that these are dangerous.

5.     There are interlocking interests of GM companies and chemical companies especially in developing countries.

      In a book  The Living With Nature Handbook, this author stated some recommendations which support those of Solangi and Perilla.

1.     The key to the regeneration of indigenous biological diversity on all three levels – genetic, species and ecosystem – is in the revival of traditional, organic farming methods which have through centuries demonstrated the sustainability and productivity of agriculture.  Western monoculture techniques – and now biotechnology – are destroying the integrity of sustainable productivity.

2.     There should be a stronger vigilance against biopiracy – stealing of indigenous genes by multinational companies and patenting them in their own countries. These genes are potentially valuable materials to be used in genetic engineering.

3.     In the meantime, labeling should be required for all foods, which contain any genetically modified ingredient, even only one or where genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been used in the production of the food.  There should be a thorough review or study of genetically engineered foods and a moratorium on the release of uncertified\unreviewed genetically modified organisms to protect health.

4.     There is need of monitoring and surveillance programs concerning the environment. Consumers and producers in the Philippines must be organized and mobilized against GMOs. Arbitration by CGIAR centers at the international level and by national R&D centers at a country level, with harmonized activities at international, regional and country levels. Intensified networking and information sharing and more coordinated efforts among various peasants, consumers, environmentalists and religious organizations and other NGOs worldwide.

     Genetic engineering is indeed the newest generator of the worst kind of   pollution heretofore unknown and untold, that if we cannot contain it immediately, will endanger not humankind but the whole biosphere to ultimate extinction. ~                                                           x   x   x

Stem Cell Burger, anyone?

Who cares about laboratory grown burgers
    to a hungry world, to teeming cities,
to slum dwellers, and – to affluence and fancy?
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8-9 evening class Monday to Friday
Burger revolution: farm meat to lab meat
Burger made from stem cells in the laboratory,
     it could be beef, pork, chicken, fish, 
and in many different combinations no single
     recipe can define, menus in array.

Stem cells are universal to all living things,
     plants the simplest, animals complex,
human ultimate, ethico-moral notwithstanding,
     but who can stop science, progress? 

Simple as seed germinating into stem and root,
     as zygote differentiating into tissues,
to organs, to systems, on to a complete being;
     from organelles to uni-celled protists.     

Analogy from simple to complex shows Nature
     at work, transferring life in patterns,
key to evolution's continuity and diversity -
     but these don't need man's intervention. 

Disobedience from the tree of knowledge persists,
     discovery by invention or serendipity,
man saw how a seed grows, an embryo forms,
     n vivo, in vitro, Eureka! 

If in test tube life grows, and tissue culture 
     replicates the mother, henceforth grow
stem cells harvested from the bone marrow,
     adipose, amniotic, umbilical - 

Would a mold make a bone, a heart, an eye,
     kidney? Or simpler, in situ - pronto!
it's bio-automation, two centuries after Ford;
     burgers in millions, nay in billions.  

Who cares about laboratory grown burgers
    to a hungry world, to teeming cities,
to slum dwellers, and – to affluence and fancy?
     It is hard to defect from the bandwagon.

Pavlov after all makes no exception, more so
     in consumerism, and Darwin’s
survival in fitness, and on the expense of others,
     is true from ancient to postmodern.

For why should man eat the bacteria in BT corn?
      The arctic flounder in tomato?
Daffodil in rice, human hormone in cow’s milk?
     Bio-pharmed plants, other Frankenfood?

Perhaps because he accepted coffeeless coffee,
     sugarless sugar, fatless fat;
sulfite, chromates, monosodium glutamates,
     irradiation, moieties and clones.  

And now stem cell burgers, and other products
     from lab meat - today’s Green Revolution –
so why farm the land, raise cattle on the ranch,
     hunt down the endangered species?

When you can grow food in test tube
     from stem cells of endless source:
animal, plant, moneran and protist – and human -      
     Stem cell burger, anyone? 

Mutation Gone Wild Through Genetic Engineering

What good is science that creates a Frankenstein monster deprived of love, home and family, a rebel against humanity?Glass paintings and Poem by Dr Abe V Rotor
 Crustacean mutants
 Turkey fish Siamese twin
Deformed Groupers

        Evolution through fusion: Sargassum fish 

Who is your father, who is your mother?
your sister, your brother?
You look like no one; 
where did you come from?

Who is your guardian, who is your maker?
your ancestor, your kin?
You look like alien; 
where did you come from?

Who is your friend, who is your neighbor?
your mate, your children?
You are an outcast; 
where did you come from?

Why do you have blood other than your own?
Tissue and cells enlarged?
chromosomes paired, unpaired
DNA snipped, spliced? 

Why do you have to be a giant among the small?
Or Lilliputian to be smart?
shaped like barrel or grass,
armed with less or more?

Why do you have to eat more than you should?
ravage all - big and small
to grow too large heeding not
the fate of the dinosaur?

Why do you have to veer away from your origin?
evade the dictates of nature?
live like vagabond 
sans company, sans home?

What good is science destined to nowhere?
 thriving on trial and error?
and having no control 
of good and evil? 

What good  is science sans conscience clear?
though genius its master
at the border of insanity
for fame and glory? 

What good is science that creates a Frankenstein
monster deprived of love,
home and family, 
rebel against humanity?

What good is science that destroys what it builds?  
like mad destroying the Pieta
for not seeing true beauty
in  simplicity and piety?

x x x 

* Spontaneous thoughts of the author while painting these images of an unnatural world.  

Happy Honeybee

Dr Abe V Rotor

Honeybee on Cadena de Amor, Mt Makiling Botanical Garden, UPLB, Laguna

Morning comes early to the honeybee,
waking up the flowers to meet the day,
their nectar for their young and our tray
and the whole world comes buzzing free.

Folk Wisdom for Kids: 10 Practical Lessons for Growing up

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) 
with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 Evening Class, Monday to Friday

1. Trapping frogs
It was fun to trap frogs when I was a kid. At harvest time I would dig holes in the ricefield around one and one-half feet deep. The frogs seek shelter in these holes because they need water and a cool place. Insects that fall into the hole attract them and become their prey.

Early in the morning I would make my rounds, harvesting the trapped frogs.   The frog is skinned, its entrails removed, and cooked with tomato, onion, and achuete (Bixa orellana). Frogs make a favorite dish, especially among Ilocanos. 

2.  Old folks use garlic as insecticide. 
Garlic is useful as an insecticide by planting beside crops you intend to protect, and by making a spray solution from its cloves. The simple method is to soak crushed garlic cloves in water and then spray or sprinkle the solution on plants attacked by aphids, mites, caterpillars, and other pests.

This is another method. Soak approximately 100 grams of chopped garlic cloves in about 50 ml of mineral oil (turpentine or kerosene) or cooking oil for 24 hours.  This is then slowly mixed with 500 ml of water in which 20 grams of powdered natural soap (Perla or Ivory) has been dissolved. Soap serves an emulsion, that is, to make oil and water miscible.  Stir well and strain with an old undershirt or nylon stocking, then store the filtrate in earthen or glass container.  This serves as mother stock, ready for use, diluting it one part to twenty parts of water, or down to one part per hundred. It is reputed to be effective insecticide against most common garden pests.

3. “Gibba” keeps cooked rice longer. Whatever is the explanation why rice cooked in a pot previously heated with a pinch of salt will not spoil fast is beyond scientific explanation.  Yet it is common knowledge in the rural area.  This is what housewives do. The call the process “gibba,” literary, to heat at extreme temperature like firing clay in a furnace. Put a pinch of salt in the cooking pot - aluminum or clay pot, heat until the salt disappears.  Cooked rice as usual in the pot.   This will prevent rice from getting spoiled in a short time.  

4. Place a pinch of salt on the cover of the pot while rice is boiling.  This technique shortens cooking time. (Lesson from my sister Manang Veny, San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, affirmed by Tinong Viernes, a good friend.).

5. Smudging induces flowering of fruit trees and protects fruits from pests. 
This is a common practice on many common fruit trees, especially mango. Old folks gather dried leaves, grass, rice hull, corn stalk and the like, and burn them slowly under the trees.  The smoke is directed to the branches and leaves early every morning until flowers come out, and is later resumed to protect the fruits from insects and fungi. Smudging is preferred over potassium nitrate spraying used to force mangoes to flower out of season.  Repeated chemical spraying reduces the life span of the tree, which is not the case in smudging.

7. Leaves of madre de cacao or kakawate hasten the ripening of fruits.
  Old folks use fresh leaves of Gliricida sepium to ripen banana, papaya, mango, chico, guyabano, atis, avocado, and others. The fruits are placed in an earthen jar lined with  kakawate leaves. The jar is closed or inverted in order to trap the ethylene gas that catalyses the softening of pectin and the conversion of complex to simple sugar that results in ripening which takes around three days. Unlike the commercial method of using carbide (carburo), kakawate ripened fruits, as long as they were picked at proper maturity, develop natural taste, color and aroma as if they were ripened on the tree.  
8.  Kamote or sweet potato builds gas in the stomach (flatulence).
In the province, whenever we failed to recite in class our teacher in the elementary would matter of fact, say, “Go home and plant kamote.” We also loved to sing or recite, hilariously that is, a verse associated with this humble plant. Years after, I realized how unfair it is to treat this important crop, which is a staple food of millions of people and a major animal feed in many parts of the world.  The verse/song goes like this.

“Kamote is a musical root;
The more you eat, the more you puut…
The more you putt…, the better you feel,
So eat kamote every meal.”

In defense of kamote,  the tuber or root is rich in Phosphorus (P2O5, 0.15%), Calcium (CaO, 0.13%), and Iron (Fe2O3, 0.02%) in addition to carbohydrate (8.41%) and protein (1.96 %).   These alleged gas-forming substances are also found in other root crops like cassava and taro (gabi), but in lesser quantities.  It is advisable to cook kamote very well, and that one should take it moderately. By the way, kamote tops contains an appreciable amount of hydrocyanic acid similar to that in cassava. Thus, when cooking it, it is advisable to bring it to boiling and allow the compound to escape as cyanogas by removing the pot cover.

9. Beware of bats.  Bats swoop on unwary people walking in the field or on the street.  Old folks warn us not to go out at dusk or at night - and never alone.
Bats, the only true flying mammals are perhaps the most misunderstood creatures because of their ugly looks and enigmatic life embellished with superstitious beliefs and associated with fiction such as the story of Dracula, a bloodthirsty count-vampire in the world of the undead. Movies, cartoons, and children’s stories have projected a bad image of bats, giving us the impression they are enemies of mankind.   

The truth is that bats are harmless, except for three known species called vampire bats that feed on the blood of animals. Seventy percent of the one thousand species of bats live on insects as their daily diet. One bat can devour 1000 mosquitoes in one hour. The bigger species eat on fruits (fruit bats). Insectivorous bats swoop down on flying insects in the dark which they detect by means of echolocation (natural radar) making it appear that they are attacking people when they get too close to them.

Bats are nature’s biological agents in controlling destructive insects.  They pollinate plants that bloom only in the night, and they are very efficient in disseminating seeds of many plants. By carrying out these functions bats are crucial in maintaining the ecological balance of fragile ecosystems like the desert and chaparral.  Their droppings accumulated for years in their cave dwellings make the best and safest organic fertilizer (guano).  Let us protect the bats instead; they are indeed man’s valuable friends.     

10. Malunggay (Moringa oleifera) supplement in noodles. Noodles are in various preparations: sotanghon, bihon, mami, pasta, others. Enterprises are producing malunggay supplemented noodles. 

Remedy for eye bag.  Pick a leaf of Aloe vera, cut it lengthwise, gather sap with  cotton ball, wipe around the eye bag before going to sleep.  Potato (Solanum tuburosum) is also effective.  Slice and wipe sap with cotton ball.  Apply around eye bag before retiring at night. (From Salamat Dok, March 29, 2009)