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High yields without using any addditional land is a good thing.

Malabanan said more than 55,000 hectares (ha) of palay fields were planted to hybrid rice in 2010 in the dry crop, with farmers harvesting an average of 7.73 metric tons (MT) per hectare.

This per-hectare yield average is higher than the 5.7-ton average of farmers who planted inbred rice certified seeds in some 93,000 ha., he said.

Figs and fig wasps have evolved to help each other out: Fig wasps lay their eggs inside the fruit where the wasp larvae can safely develop, and in return, the wasps pollinate the figs.

But what happens when a wasp lays its eggs but fails to pollinate the fig?

The trees get even by dropping those figs to the ground, killing the baby wasps inside, reports a Cornell and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (published online Jan. 13). (tip to Pedantsareus who writes: Morality among plants proves the existence of God?)

Here’s a harsh piano lesson: Years of tickling the ivories go only so far for those who want to sight-read sheet music fluently, a new study suggests. Aside from those painstaking hours of practice, a memory skill that pianists have little control over may orchestrate their performance.

Sight-reading is the ability to play sheet music on an instrument with little or no preparation. Any piano player who practices sight-reading for thousands of hours will get pretty good at it, say study coauthors Elizabeth Meinz of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and David Hambrick of Michigan State University in East Lansing. But having a strong ability to keep different pieces of relevant information in mind while performing a task — known as working memory capacity — aids sight-reading regardless of how much someone has practiced, the psychologists report in a paper published online June 9 in Psychological Science.



In a related story, some people appear to be more talented than others.


Seriously, now. Does anyone believe Mozart just practiced his way "there"?

Wolfie started very young, and that helped a lot. Performing all over the place with his sister - who was also quite talented, but female - helped as well. And yeah, he was talented and a genius. Without the early opportunities, though, W Mozart probably would've been a talented composer who died young. (unless he managed to stay healthy and live twice as long, then his genius would've surfaced)

Anyhoo, I read the sight reading article as a way to let pianists know that they should learn how to sight read, dang it! Next there can be an article about ensemble playing - something else keyboard players don't do as much as other instrumentalists.

Practice makes perfect what you practice, I say. If you never practice sight reading, the best you'll be is mediocre. If you're a crackerjack reader and land a gig where you play that same shit over and over and you don't keep up the sight-reading, that ability will decrease. Musicianship is a skill and is maintained and improved like any skill.

That being said, their are strategies to sight reading,just as there are to any other form of performing (ensemble playing, improvising, performing by memory vs. with music, playing different styles). In the early stages, it's the teacher's responsibility to get the student involved in these strategies: that means don't forget your scales and your arpeggios, learn how to decipher rhythmic combinations (these 1st 2 are for YOU, piano teachers who think this stuff isn't motivating for kids!), know what musical terms and other notation mean, and keep going no matter how many errors you make. The Royal Academy has put together a pretty good program for this, but this skill can be taught and learned by anyone who wants it bad enough.

Btw, I love the Onion!

I'm not sure if being able to read music will hinder some of the truly talented. Paco de Lucía famously only had to learn to read sheet music to perform the Concierto de Aranjuez.

On the one hand, if you happen to be a world renowned soloist, reading music isn't too important as long as you play stuff that's already been recorded. Since Lucía had to learn to read music to learn the Rodrigo concerto, there's a story that relates that it's nice to be able to figure out things for yourself.

The article had to do with sight reading, a skill that involves being able to read the music well or even perfectly on first glance, not after hours in the practice room. If you are a pianist without that great solo career, you'll find more $ available in the collaborative pianist world and the party and gig world. If you play any other instrument, sight reading is a must, at least to get your foot in the door (as I mentioned, this skill will deteriorate without use, and once someone has an orchestral or college gig, they may not need to sight read to pay the bills - but it's still helpful!). For vocal instrumentalists, many slide by without ever learning to read a lick (let alone sight read), but competition is making this phenomenon less prevalent in the working world. Pavarotti really was a member of a dying breed.


Regarding the magic rice... In the sixties the green revolution took off in the Philippines, the result of a hybridization program that continues to improve yields. Improved machinery and seed stocks have changed the economic picture, and there have been shifts in land tenure as subsistence farming gave way to modern practices. A lot of peasants have moved to the cities, not unlike the demographic shifts in the USA coming out of the great depression.

But there's another aspect of this that worries me. As yield improvements due to cross breeding begin to plateau, the next important breakthrough will be via genetic engineering. Transgenic technologies promise a cornucopia, but may also be a Pandora's box.

People often conflate hybridization and genetic modification. Steven Davis' article in PNAS, referenced here a few days ago, speaks only to the past wonders of hybrid yield improvements, extrapolated to show the greenhouse gas benefits of continuing to improve production on existing ag land, and not--for example--clearing the carbon sinks like the Amazon basin to increase gross output volumes. His AW (alternative world) modeling doesn't speak to the next shift from hybrid to transgenic cropping. I think that needs to be addressed so people understand the next shift coming in land tenure arrangements, and the risks of transduction accidents on seed stocks.

So, here is one part of this that I don't quite understand of this.

Its the thermodynamics.

Don't more "efficient" crops do more harm to the soil. In other words, use more of the soil and water to produce their fruit.

Meaning, More water, more fertilizer and more crop rotation. As a kid, several of my teachers were farmers and always complained that corn was terrible to the soil. I imagine enhanced corn would do more of that.

Are these studies assessing fallow fields and volume of fertilizer in addition to simply the square miles of land containing a certain crop?

Interesting question... and not, I think, easily answered. Soil is a complex medium comprising inorganic particles, organic material at various stages of decomposition, and all kinds of plant and animal life. The bacteria and the bugs, the worms and the slugs, molds and fungi, spores and seeds and the occasional grape Nehi bottle cap. Soil should not be confused with corporate dirt, the remains of soil after it's been sterilized by weed and bug killer, compacted by equipment and tons of chemicals masquerading as fertilizer.

See the wikipedia entry for "humus"

Any crop that subtracts humus from the soil costs more than it's worth, I think.

Depending on the food crop and the farming technique, the input needs for high yield hybrids are probably not much different from the water and fertilizer needed for lower yield plants.

Corn IS terrible for the soil, particularly when it requires a heavy dose of herbicide to kill off weed competition after planting and applications of pesticide to fight corn borers and what-not. Low till and no till planting have improved one facet of the soil deterioration associated with corn and other row crops. Erosion is lower using these techniques.

The addition of phosphorous and nitrogen, trace minerals and irrigation water, all imply a thermodynamic cost. Where does the phospate come from? How do you get it to the field and how do you amend the soil with it? Is a healthy trade in junk food really worth it? (I do love me my Doritos though...)

Don't more "efficient" crops do more harm to the soil.

Not necessarily, it depends on how it's enhanced. If it's engineered to make better use of the water for example then it would be better than a lower yielding plant. Also if it makes better use of the available nitrogen that also might be a plus.

I've also read that corn is terrible to the soil compared to other plants but I don't think simply the fact that it's enhanced automatically means that it is worse.

If I'm not mistaken rice is one of the better crops, for some reason that escapes me at the moment you don't have to worry about rotating rice crops. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable than I am will chime in on that count.

So, yes. What Red-Seven said.

You're right that many conflate hybridization and genetic engineering, but then they also seem to think that all genetic engineering of plants is transgenic. They also act as if genetic engineering of plants was a single method, it's not. Much of the fear of genetic engineering of plants is born of ignorance. I've asked those opposed to genetic engineering what their objection is to non-transgenic modifications and never get an answer. They simply go off on another mind-numbing, fear-mongering diatribe about the "dangers" and never address the issue. So what say you, are you opposed to non-transgenic genetically engineered crops and if so why? Genetic engineering is a method not a product. Can you to make a case against non-transgenic GMOs do you believe they are any more dangerous than plants grown from seeds using traditional breeding, and if they're not why does the organic crowd oppose them? My opinion is that it's a mindless, unscientific fear of something they don't understand, but I'd love to hear your opinion on it.

There is no question that organic farming embraces science in its methods, but then why does it abandon the science when it comes to genetic engineering and the benefits it can provide.

When you say it may be a pandora's box you don't provide any evidence of excessive risk and so it becomes just another label designed to frighten people, at least you refrained from frankenfood. No food product is without risk. We've been consuming genetically engineered food for decades and there is no credible evidence that it's any more of a risk than any other food.

As much as I try to avoid fear mongering and diatribes on this subject I think that there is an obvious and intuitive answer to this question

GMOs do you believe they are any more dangerous than plants grown from seeds using traditional breeding

Breeding plants take the genes form two edible plants to make a new, most likely edible plant. GE can take the genetics of an inedible life form and insert it into an edible life form.

The latter seems very clearly to have a danger, that the genes selected might pass on some of the qualities of the inedible life form that make them less than healthy to eat.

That requires testing, short term and long term to ensure that that does not happen. Perhaps testing of products to date have all tested clear of any of their negative ancestral traits, but doesn't a large scale production of a variety of GE crops increase the possibility that one product amongst many could have such a trait?

Doesn’t the example of the Poisonous cross-bred potatoes point to this danger in either method of manipulating our food?

Labeling and testing requirements before wide scale use in foods seems reasonable.

My parents always told me not to buy a car in the first year of a model. It takes car companies a year or 2 to work out all the bugs. It would seem that consumers ought have the oppurtunity to choose if thery are eating large quantities of an engineered corn in the first year as an organizm on this planet.

I think many object to the inclusion on GMO's in everyday products because, especially with things like corn they could be eating it at every meal without ever knowing.

The question this time wasn't GMO's in general but non-transgenic GMO's you left off the non-transgenic when you quoted me.

So your statement:

Breeding plants take the genes form two edible plants to make a new, most likely edible plant. GE can take the genetics of an inedible life form and insert it into an edible life form.

doesn't address the question I asked.

I'm also curious by what you mean by inedible life form, can you provide me with an examples.

Oops. Se above for non-transgenic response.

On the inedible

a bowl of bacteria....

but even just genes from a non food plant.

Maybe I am ignorant to the fact, but I think that we can't really make DNA from scratch so we always have to cut dna from one place and insert it in another.

Wait, so what is a non-transgenic GMO?

Is this just the removal of genes?

fp replied to Norm | June 18, 2010 1:34 PM | Reply So, yes. What Red-Seven said.

Wait, so what is a non-transgenic GMO?

Transgenic plants are plants possessing a single or multiple genes, transferred from a different species. So a non-transgenic GMO is one where a trait is transferred from a plant of the same species.

For example if you had two corn varieties and one was great at providing a huge yield and another variety was good at not using excessive amounts of water. You could use traditional methods of breeding the two plants choosing those that retained the best of both plants and after many generations you would reach a plant that still had large yields but used less water.

Or if you identified the snippet of the gene that was responsible for the drought resistant quality you could insert that in the high yield plant directly eliminating the longer process of traditional breeding, and furthermore not risking acquiring other traits that might not be helpful.

So when someone says they are opposed to GMOs it's a fair question to ask is it only transgenic GMOs they are opposed too or is it the unreasoned opposition to the term GMO that is at play. Remember genetic engineering is not a single method nor is it always transgenic and that is why I claim that those who express a blanket opposition to GMOs simply lack a sufficient understanding of the subject to make that judgment. For them it is an emotional question.

Let me once again recommend that you read this article

I'll ponder this for a bit.

there's a broken link to the archive article...

It's good to gain a common understanding of the terms we're using before marching along to conviction. The question of non-transgenic genetic engineering is a step beyond my present understanding, Norm. Can you tell me about some genetic modifications that don't involve the transfer of genetic material via some kind of vector?

Since you are still on the "improved" food kick, there are a couple of things to add.

Getting locked-in to a single variety of a grain can quickly lead to pest problems.

There is an NGO "Friendship" in Bangladesh that uses local resources to aid peasants. They give seed to peasants who have lost everything to cyclones.

You can even buy a calf for a family and after two or three years the family can make enough selling them to be independent.

Apparently the largest NGO "Brac" has been helping peasants for years to become self-sufficient.

These people seem to be really doing something. Let Monsanto give its seeds away, if they are so good.

I will have to remember to post this at the next site I see about how good that fraud Mother Theresa was supposed to be.

re: "I've asked those opposed to genetic engineering what their objection is to non-transgenic modifications and never get an answer."


I use hybrid seed varieties on occasion. I understand the concept of hybrid vigor. I don't mind if others like Triticale. That's their choice. Personally, I don't like the idea of radiation mutagen plant breeding, and do not choose to plant such crops. That's my choice. I don't think You're a bad person if you disagree.

Yes, I object to UNLABELED GE food crops whether or not they are transgenic, BECAUSE...

I don't like eating pesticide and herbicide residue in my food. I believe that we (FDA/EPA) underestimate the health effects of even low levels, especially on children. Indeed, I suspect that the allowable tolerance levels are more politically than scientifically derived.

When the USDA first approved GE sugar beets for commercial planting in 1998, the EPA also increased the maximum allowable residues of glyphosate on sugar beet roots from just 0.2 parts per million to 10ppm. That's a staggering 5,000 percent increase of allowable toxins on beet roots. And, it's little surprise that EPA made this policy change at the request of Monsanto.

It's kinda like the BPA plastic thing. When BPA was grandfathered in as an inert plastic and hence presumed safe, there was no reason to think otherwise. But over time different applications of this plastic developed. Specifically, applications developed that put the BPA under heat (in microwave containers, baby bottles, as can linings). It wasn't a conspiracy, it was just a change in application. Now we understand that even small amounts have endocrine disrupting effects, and the product is not inert under heat. New facts emerge that warrant different decisions.

We don't really know what levels of herbicide and pesticide are safe for children to consume. We do know that roundup resistance has developed, and increasingly potent herbicides are being added to GE crops. BT corn and cotton were widely adopted. Now, in response to resistance, newer generations of BT GE products include additional, and more powerful pesticides. The same old merry go round of chemical solutions, only in a new and novel form. I think it's a wrongheaded approach to food production. I can't stop it, all I can do is try to defend the integrity of the Organic brand such that I can choose to not feed such products to my family.

I am very concerned about antibiotic resistance. Bacterial DNA extracted from soil samples collected between 1940 and 2008 has revealed a rise in background levels of antibiotic resistant genes. "Despite increasingly stringent controls on our use of antibiotics, the background level of antibiotic resistant genes, which are markers for potential resistance, continues to rise in soils.

Now, the GE researchers say it's not a problem that these antibiotic resistant strains are used in their genetic engineering. Besides, they say, there are other techniques now that can be used. Well ok, but of the thousands of scientist playing with GE, how many of them use newer techniques? Now you may think that the risk from ABR in GE is a trivial concern given the still widespread use of Prophalactic antibiotics in CAFO livestock operations. But losing antibiotics would be a really big problem. Even a low probability of that happening is a big risk given the potential damage.

However, this is neither here nor there, for even labeling will not solve the problem. However we might at least consider supporting the EFSA rulings that classify ABR marker genes, allowing some to be used for GE and others not.

Many effects of novel food components may not be discernible for many years. How can any future issues be researched if no human control group can be found that hasn't been exposed to GE food? We know that allergens can be deadly to some, how is it conscionable to deny those who are allergic the ability to avoid food that might be dangerous to them?

Most GE work is done on high yield hybrids. We can talk about seed banks for land-race genetics, but loss of biodiversity through the heavy handed marketing of GE crops is a concern to me. One thing we learned from the Green revolution was that high yielding hybrids are often picky about less than optimal growing conditions. Some older varieties are better tuned to variability in water, weather and pest conditions in a given area.

0.7% of the croplands in the US is certified Organic. This is a TINY TINY MARKET! And yet, to hear the badmouthing going on about Organic, you'd think we are singlehandedly stopping all Scientific progress in the UNIVERSE because we want to preserve the ONLY LABELING that is currently available that allows us to choose the food we feed our families.

Nobody is stopping the GE juggernaut. There is too much money to be made, too many interests who see opportunity.

Though I don't like GE food, and believe the Industrial Agriculture perspective that spawns it is unsustainable, I'm not demanding that you agree with me. ALL I'M ASKING FOR IS TRUTH IN LABELING. Put GE in the fine print on the Damn label, OR, allow the ORGANIC label to maintain it's Integrity. It's fair, It's American. To paraphrase Janis, "Freedom's just another word for Informed Consent."

Hi Bernarda,

"I will have to remember to post this at the next site I see about how good that fraud Mother Theresa was supposed to be"

Until I saw your comment I thought I was the only one not to consider Mother Térésa as a saint.

Now it seems we're 2.


About the figs. I'm not sure there's any evidence of the morality of plants. Except in my garden. Oh wait, that's mortality. Anyway, it sounds like the figs are just a little pissy.


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