Friday, March 27, 2015

Intrigue And Snowdrops

 Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, Pittsburgh, 2015

Galanthus nivalis Study, Pittsburgh, 2015

I was outside with the dog when I saw that in a corner of the yard the snowdrops had blossomed.  The only flower hardy enough to bloom while it's still snowing, thus making it the first flower to flower, I decided to spend some time today learning more about the brave little bulbous angiosperm. 
It did not take long in my research into the snowdrop to learn that it is native to Europe, and that international trade of the bulbs is strictly restricted by the Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna.  My only defense in possessing Galanthus nivalis is that I did not plant them.  They were already here when we bought the house.  Our house was built in the mid-1940s, and the original owner was quite the gardener, and for all I know snowdrops weren't listed as endangered then, or even if 'endangered' was a thing seventy years ago!
So, there's that.
But what I found most fascinating about the snowdrop is that it is at the heart of the very first Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foodstuff debate.  There is an active lectin in snowdrops identified as GNA, shorthand for galanthus nivalis agglutinin, that has been shown to serve as a natural insecticide.  For this reason GNA has been used to create various GMOs (papaya, wheat, potatoes, corn, rice and God only knows what else since the industry doesn't actually share a lot of information on GMOs) with hotly debated results.
In 1998, Arpad Pusztai, a career-long biochemist who specialized in lectins, worked at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland.  He conducted a research study into the effects of GNA modified potatoes on rats.  You can read about the entire experiment and controversy here.
I find the complete discrediting of Pusztai to be extreme, especially since he'd worked at the institute for what, 29 years?  He'd published his findings for previous studies in peer reviewed journals with not even a hint of scandal or disagreement.  And while this is a most curious case, what I would like to see is more studies of GMOs done, and made available, not buried or discredited when the outcome is not what the industry wants.

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