Friday, March 09, 2007

Lost Knowledge

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Genesis 2:15.

Even though I shouldn't be, I am often amazed at foolish statements that show up in news items or even scientific reports. There seems to be a cycle in which common knowledge is lost, replaced by pseudo-knowledge, and then, suddenly the old knowledge is rediscovered and announced with surprise. I've seen this happen over and over again in my relatively brief sojourn.

For instance, in the early 1980s, the invading spotted knapweed was a big problem in Montana. It had the potential to render useless millions of acres of rangeland. Researchers were working full time to figure out the weed. One of the first things they discovered was that it was "alleolopathic." That means that it produces a poison to kill other plants. I knew one of the researchers who proved this. He published his findings in a scientific journal more than 25 years ago. He even isolated one of the compounds.

Two months ago I picked up a publication from the Montana State University College of Agriculture announcing that researchers there had recently made the profound discovery that spotted knapweed produced a poison to kill other plants. I immediately wondered if the researchers were even aware of my friend's work, which was done at the same university.

So now I turn to a news item I read this morning. It is about a plan to raise genetically-engineered rice in Kansas. The rice is supposed to contain human genes to produce certain human hormones.

USDA Backs Production of Rice With Human Genes.

Without getting into the aspect of implanting human genes into plants (I think it is a bad idea) the following paragraph struck me as amazingly ignorant:

"Because no other rice is grown in Kansas and because rice can grow only in flooded areas, the risk of escape or cross-fertilization with other rice plants is nil there, Deeter said. The company will mill virtually all the seeds on site-- using dedicated equipment -- to minimize the risk of seeds getting mistakenly released or sold."

Perhaps it is true that no other rice is grown in Kansas, but it is not true that rice needs flooded areas. When I was an agriculturalist, everyone I knew was aware that rice could grow on dry land. Upland and dryland rice farming has been practiced from before recorded history in places all over the globe. They do it in Brazil right now:

I remember one of our own experiment stations growing rice. That was in the silt-loam prairie soil near Bozeman Montana. And it was done without "flooded areas."

So common knowledge has been dumped yet again. I hope that there won't be some surprising "rediscovery" that rice, particularly chimerical rice, can grow in the wild and spread its strange genes indiscriminately.

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:12

No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you. Job 12:2.

1 comment:

lauren said...

Yes, it seems as if institutional memory is what has been "mistakenly released or sold."