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Genetic Alterations, Good or Bad
February 01, 2010

Karen received a clean bill of health Friday and was told this battery in her pacemaker should last at least 10 more years.

Thank you all for your prayers and well wishes.

The past few days ushered in the coldest air of winter here in my part of Michigan,

There hasn't been a lot of snow here, as that seems to follow a southerly pattern so far this year, and that isn't good.

Snow is a wonderful insulator for your dormant plants.

When it gets this cold, I would rather have a foot or more of white on the ground to protect my plants.

Another winter storm went south of us this past week.

El Niņo is messing with all of us this year.

Turn the page on the calendar.

We are in February which gets us a bit closer to spring.

We have gained close to an hour of daylight since the winter solstice.


Ordering seeds and starting seedlings

Never mind a young man's fancy, we're talking gardens and wildlife.

The smell of fresh dirt and the songs of returning birds,

Not to mention the appreciation for our birds that tough it out and make winter more tolerable for us northern folk.

We'll see what Phil has to say on Tuesday (Feb. 2).

(Picture credit to 'Punxsutawney Groundhog Club')

It must be a slow time of year for PETA

The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wants to replace the weather-forecasting Punxsutawney Phil of Groundhog Day fame with an animatronic version.

What's next for them?

The first of the month means it is time to clean the feeders once again.

Always clean your feeders at least once a month.

I find that the first of the month is a good reminder for me, if I haven't done so already.

You will be amazed at how it becomes a habit to do so.

February is a busy month for us birders.

This year's 'Great Backyard bird Count' is February 12-15, 2010.

If you haven't registered for the bird count, please do so soon.

February is also:

'National Bird Feeding Month.'

Here is how it came to be.

In January 1994, Illinois' 10th District Congressman John Porter read a resolution in the Congressional Record making February "National Bird-Feeding Month".

This observance was established because wintertime is one of the most difficult periods in much of North America for birds to survive in the wild.

The resolution noted that one-third of the adult population feeds wild birds in their backyards.

Consider that:

A typical backyard bird doesn't weigh as much as two nickels.

Birds spend most of their waking hours searching for food -- without the help of "hands" and "fingers".

They may consume 15% of their body weight overnight just keeping warm enough to survive.

They never get a day off because of weather. They're outside in sleet, snow, wind and cold.

Providing food, water and shelter helps birds survive, benefits the environment and supplements wild birds' natural diet of weed seeds and harmful insects.

Backyard bird feeding is an entertaining, educational and inexpensive pastime that can be enjoyed by children and adults.

It provides a needed break from today's frantic lifestyles that helps keep families together.

Young children are drawn naturally to the activities involved in feeding wild birds.

Chickadees (my favorite), fly back and forth between a feeder and nearby tree.

On each trip, they take a single seed and fly to a perch.

While holding the seed with their feet, they peck it open and eat the kernel.

This can capture a youngster's imagination.

Feeding wild birds in the backyard is an easy hobby to start, and it need not overtax the family budget.

It can be as simple as mounting a single feeder outside a window and filling it with good-quality birdseed or oil sunflower seeds.

The feeder can be a hopper, platform or tubular variety or one that sticks to the window.

Parents can challenge an inquisitive child's mind as they explore together these factors to encourage visits by their favorite birds.

It also makes excellent material for school projects and reports.

In fact, bird feeding is an excellent teaching tool.

Children can assume daily responsibility for cleaning and filling the feeders.

Different species of birds can be identified with a field guide.

And the activity can be expanded form that point, depending on the interest of the family.

You aren't sure what to offer your birds?

You can't go wrong with Black Oil Sunflower seeds as a bird food.

Black Oilers are preferred by the largest variety or backyard or songbirds.

If you can have but one feeder, fill it with oilers and nothing else.

Black oil sunflower seed is high in oil and protein and offer what birds need.

If you offer water, particularly if it's dripping or running, you may attract birds that do not visit your feeders.

Many interesting and eye-catching species are not seed eaters, preferring insects or berries instead.

Adding a birdbath warmer to keep water from freezing in northern states during winter creates an oasis for bird watching.

To round out the family's backyard birding program, Birdhouses or nest boxes can be purchased to provide shelter in winter and breeding sanctuaries during spring for cavity-nesting birds.

Feeding backyard songbirds is an extremely popular wildlife-related recreational activity around the home.

A stress-free and inexpensive activity, backyard birding brings a welcome flash of color and dash of motion and splash of sound into every one's daily life.

This week I continue the series on plants or in this case, plant production.

You may want to do some of your own research on today's topic.

'Genetic Alteration.'


Over the past couple of weeks I Mentioned where and how some of our different plants come from

I touched on plant sports and hybridizing.

This week I will skim the surface on genetic plant alterations.

Often referred to as 'Genetic Hybrids.'

Genetic alterations can be a tricky topic for all of us.

Let me start off with this.............................

There is only one God, the Creator of all things.

The God who put creation in motion (even what some may call evolution).

He hides things for us to find when the time is right as we continue to discover and find new species of plants and animals and beyond.

Some humans may think they are god or want to play god, but there is only one God.

Some folks believe genetic alterations is or can be on the verge of playing god.

Plants are altered for different reasons.

Color or size of flowers.

Smells and textures.

Disease and insect resistance.

Food production.

Medicines and much more.

One example:

Your lemon scented geraniums have been altered by genes from Lemon grass.

No matter, I am going to try to give some examples on the subject and you need to pay attention.

'Genetic Alterations' is exactly as it sounds.

Scientists get into the complete make-up of a plant DNA and then mess around with it.

In their cute white lab coats, they get to play around with all the latest gadgets and scientific toys.

They add to, take away, alter or do whatever deems possible to alter the natural life and abilities of a plant (and animals).

There are many ways to do this.

In plants the most common technique is to use a bacteria called agrobacterium.

This bacterium performs genetic engineering as a natural part of its life cycle which forces the plant to send it nutrients.

Scientists have been able to remove a non-coding part of DNA from the plant and replace it with a bit of DNA they want to insert into the plant.

The bacteria does all the rest.

There are other ways such as shooting bits of DNA into a protoplast or immersing the cells in a solution which increases membrane permeability or using viruses as vectors.

Each method has its own merits and disadvantages.

Annual crops and flowers grow, blossom and die within one year.

Perennials overwinter and grow again the following year.

The life strategy of many annuals consists of rapid growth following germination and rapid transition to flower and seed formation, thus preventing the loss of energy needed to create permanent structures.

Researchers have studied two such flower-inducing genes. They have deactivated them in thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), a typical annual.

They found that mutant plants can no longer induce flowering, but they can continue to grow vegetatively or come into flower much later.

(Canola Field in Canada.)

Science has found that modified crops did not use up their store of non-specialised cells, enabling perennial growth (annuals become perennials).

They can therefore continue to grow for a very long time.

As with real perennials these plants show secondary growth with wood formation creating shrub-like Arabidopsis plants.

Another Example:

Scientists are designing flowers with genetically modified or enhanced scents, in an attempt to replace fragrances that have vanished over decades of flower breeding.

As breeders worked to develop longer-lasting, taller, bigger strains of flowers, gradually the fragrances disappeared, the researchers say.

Smell is the sense most closely linked to our emotions.

At a whiff, long-forgotten memories and feelings can surge back like an avalanche.

'The nose knows'.

Several research groups have engineered petunia and carnation plants with extra scent-making genes, according to the University of Michigan

The added genes came from Clarkia Breweri, a sweet- smelling, violet flower common in coastal California.

That experiment failed, but others continue with moderate success (back to the lemon geranium).

Many people like a lush green lawn, but hate to mow and care for it.

Can you imagine a scented lawn?

Smelly turf.............................

Scientists at Michigan State university are doing research by injecting grass with lemon grass, and other pleasant smells in an attempt to create the fresh smelling lawn when you walk on it.

Scientists from Monsanto, Rutgers University, and Scotts Company (the world's largest maker of lawn products, including a wide variety of fertilizers, pesticides) are on the verge of a grass that is Round-Up (glyphosate) resistant, low water needs and low or little mowing required.

The one problem................

Scotts grows this in there test fields, but can't sell it, because they can't safely kill it off.

Can you imagine something like this becoming an invasive plant?

Vegetables like store bought tomatoes are created to last longer on the shelf.

Crops are injected with chemicals so they become resistant to other chemicals.

Did you know that commercial growers can grow beans, corn and potatoes, etc. that are resistant to Round-Up?

This is in the food we eat.

Crops are genetically altered to produce more, but often at a cost of flavor and nutrition.

Many of you gardeners are familiar with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis ) a natural bacterium .

A popular insecticide for many organic gardeners.

It is genetically engineered into the crops to protect against insects throughout the lifespan of the plants.

It has allowed growers to avoid applying large quantities of potentially toxic insecticides.

However, the widespread use of Bt has prompted concerns that insects might someday become resistant to this important treatment.

This is a valid concern that has engaged agricultural researchers before Bt crops reached the marketplace.

(Above, Potato Field.)

Not to mention, we again consume the bacterium.

Are you still with me?

It really becomes a catch 22.

I like some of the flowers, but not thrilled that we may lose our native plants in the process.

If these permanently altered DNA lab plants cross pollinate with our native plants, this can happen.

I am not crazy about consuming bacterias, but like the idea of less pesticides being used.

I'm not jumping for joy, that something may jump species or that insects may become super bugs.

Are we helping to feed a hungry world or is it all about the mighty dollar?

About 50% of major crops like corn, beans, canola and potatoes have been genetically altered and mixed with non altered crops before they hit the shelves, and there is no law or requirements to inform us consumers about this.

Are genetic alterations curing diseases or making them?

What happens to our wildlife and natural world?

Is this a program that should be more carefully controlled?

Again, growers and producers aren't required to inform us on these matters.

Are genetic alterations something that can surreptitiously be used as a kind of warfare?

Are we playing god?

It isn't an exact science, and there are several arguments pro and con.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

Most of us miss out on life's big prizes. The Pulitzer. The Nobel. Oscars. Tonys. Emmys. But we're all eligible for life's small pleasures. A pat on the back. A kiss behind the ear. A four-pound bass. A full moon. An empty parking space. A crackling fire. A great meal. A glorious sunset. Hot soup. Cold beer.


(Saturday's Full moon, Jan 30, 2010)

What do yo think?

Life is what you make of it.

I suppose a bit of fame and glory might do most of us some good.

At least stroke the ego for a time.


I think I'll take life's small prizes anytime of the day.

A pat on the back can be priceless.

A kiss or hearing I love you for the first time from that special someone.

What about the birth of your children?

A warm evening with loved ones and listening to the cricketers.

Yes, sunsets at the beach.

And even a nice cold one after a long day.

Give me life's rewards and prizes anytime.

So many of these little gifts are memory makers and often make us into who we become.

To be alive is a prize in itself.

Share your joys with others and be sure to smile.

Smiles are one of life's greatest gifts.

One last thing.

Thank your God for all of life's prizes and gifts.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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