Sunday, March 18, 2007

Genetically Altered Rice Creates Problems and Raises Metaphysical Questions

An interesting story appeared in this morning’s newspaper concerning the current dire straits of the U.S. rice industry.

It appears that some genetic re-engineering of certain strains of rice have cross-pollinated or somehow gotten mixed in with other commercial strains of natural hybrid rice. This renders the crop unacceptable to most of Europe which is very skeptical of the health implications of such rice.

As usual everybody is blaming the Department of Agriculture for the mess. I say that it is just another manifestation of Murphy’s Law!

This does, however, raise an interesting question about genetics and evolution.

Natural selection expects rice (and every other genetically-based life form . . . which is every life form) to create the occasional genetic mutation. According to the theory, most of these naturally-occurring mutations will be either useless or detrimental to the survival of the new strain of rice. Some, however, will prove helpful and, over time, create a new and improved variety.

I find it somewhat amusing to discover that even when humans try their hardest to improve rice through genetic manipulation the results are viewed with suspicion and distrust and fear for the entire ecosystem . . . including ourselves.

But when, I ask, has there ever occurred a natural case of some new strain of rice appearing that was suddenly harmful to humans or the environment?

I should think that the odds of random, natural genetic shifts in rice would have long ago created a rice that is toxic and poisonous to humans and other living things. Certainly the odds would have far suggested this scenario than that the plant would have evolved with a structure so friendly and nutritious and benign!

If good intentions in genetic manipulation have apparently created worrisome rice, then random, amoral natural selection ought to have created an entire planet filled with plants hostile to the best interests of humanity! After all, an inedible plant would have a higher chance of survival, n’est pas?

Could it be that only a perfect genetic designer could have created such a perfect, healthy, nutritious and satisfying plant such as rice?

That conclusion may not be very scientific but it seems to have at least as much common-sense about it as the theory currently on the books.