Re: How to turn some people to GM (was Glowing Grass)

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Tue Jul 11 2000 - 02:14:14 MDT

On Mon, Jul 10, 2000 at 11:52:32PM +0000, zeb haradon wrote:
> A way to counter this is ro provide them with a case where GM will allow
> them a greater amount of freedom then they already have. I've thought of a
> way to do this which I think is within current or nearly-current technology.
> I came up with this idea several years ago but just realized it's
> propogandistic value today: genetically engineer a strain of grass (common
> lawn grass) which produces THC, and other chemicals found in marijuana.
> Immediately, many of the people (from the left side of the anti-GM spectrum)
> who are now protesting GM food suddenly can grow their favorite drug, right
> in their front lawn, without arousing detection.

Have you any idea how dangerous that proposal is?

There's some evidence that hemp evolved the metabolic pathways that
synthesize THC as a defense against herbivores. It turns out that cattle
really *hate* getting stoned so they rapidly learn to eat something else.

In hemp, this isn't a problem (except for us whacky humans who like the
stuff). But grass is the staple foodstuff for the cattle we eat. It's also
worth remembering that most of our staple food crops -- things we eat
directly, like wheat -- are grasses.

Given that gene transfer _does_ occur, if you start packaging up THC
synthesis in a neat, transferrable plasmid or whatever, designed for
implanting in grass, you risk infecting our core foodstuffs. This is
not clever.

(Now, if you could find something a bit less critical to our food chain --
orange or apple trees, say -- this might be a runner.)

The point is, when considering a GM deployment it's important to bear
in mind the worst possible side-effects. Because your mistakes replicate.

-- Charlie

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