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Page 12 ï~~12 THE MICHIGAN BOTANIST Vol. 41 BOOK REVIEW Of Frankenfoods and Golden Rice. Risks, Rewards, and Realities of Genetically Modified Foods. Buttel, Frederick H. And Robert M. Goodman, editors. Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters 89: iii +147. 2001. Paperback, ISSN 0084-0505. $8 + $2.50 postage and handling; Wisconsin Academy, 1922 University Avenue, Madison, Wisconsin 53705. This is a complete volume of a venerable Wisconsin journal, whose first volume was published in 1872. It is, however, utterly unlike its 88 predecessor volumes, which were devoted to such topics as "Preliminary Reports on the Flora of Wisconsin," "The Beowulf Legend," and exegesis of poetry, among many other things. With this volume, the decision was taken to print what amounts to a freestanding book on a single topic, comprised of papers given at the Academy's Fall Forum 2000, amplified with reprinted papers from a variety of other sources. Victor Frankenstein in the original novel was a student who worked to produce a living being unlike anything to be found in nature. He had no degree and no laboratory assistant, Igor; these things are the invention of movie-makers. Indeed, when the nameless monster came to life, the student experimenter was horrified at what he had wrought. I take the term "Frankenfoods" to be based on the movie notion of "Dr. Frankenstein." The term is an evocative one, suggesting the creation of things not found in nature-but I have no idea who originated the neologism. The entire subject of genetically modified foods has become a very emotional and charged issue. I find it hard to see why. Moving genes from one organism into another is little different from the age-old practice of selecting for desirable traits from among wild plants and from occasional, spontaneous hybrids or mutants. Norman Borlaug, whose work with wheat did not include transgenic strains, makes just this point, in a paper reprinted from the journal, Plant Physiology. Putting genes from other species into domestic corn may well create unusual proteins that some people will be allergic to; but far more common are allergies to peanuts and chocolate, and that problem is handled in grocery stores by careful labelling. The demonstrator in the street is not represented in this volume, but some of his concerns (expressed in solemn prose) are. It may be that genetically modifed organisms will provoke an environmental catastrophe some day. But it is beyond argument that our agriculture is already an environmental catastrophe. It is hard to see how the transgenic future could be any worse. Modern biotechnology is maligned as "playing God," "altering the natural order of things." (That's what so appalled young Victor Frankenstein.) But the natural order of things certainly includes dying of smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, and so on. If we eliminate the smallpox virus from nature, or introduce vaccines against pertussis and a host of other diseases, we are emphatically altering the natural order of things, and yet we bestow our grandest honors upon people like Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin who saved us from contracting poliomyelitis. And we gave a Nobel Peace Prize to Norman Borlaug for his efforts to feed the world's burgeoning billions. The ethical argument that underlies so much of the controversy is explained most lucidly by Jeffrey Burkhardt, pp. 63-82. It's a liberal education to read this chapter. However: "Golden Rice" has been created with one daffodil gene and two bacterial genes that together code for an increased level of provitamin A, thereby potentially reducing all manner of human suffering. It seems unlikely that someone electing to feed this to his children is going to wrestle with ethical paradigms, no matter how elegantly presented by Professor Burkhardt. With respect, I submit that ethics is the province of the wealthy and the pampered. There is a huge and growing literature on the subject of genetic modification of crops and biotechnology. The best place I have seen to get started on the subject is this volume. As is typical of such volumes, alas, it has no index. You'll want to know that the Monsanto fiasco with the "Terminator Gene" in seeds is covered on pp. 19-20; otherwise, you'll have a devil of a time finding it later. -N eil A. Harriman Biology Department University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Oshkosh, Wisconsin 54901 firstname.lastname@example.org