Saturday, February 28, 2015

New Heirlooms

Here you can get the seeds that represent the future of fruits and vegetables-- New Heirlooms. 

 These are Garden Gem and Garden Treasure tomatoes, new varieties produced by Dr. Harry Klee's lab at the University of Florida.  You can get seeds as a "thank you gift" in exchange for a small donation to his research program.  

Garden Gem and Garden Treasure are two "new heirloom" varieties that were bred starting with consumer evaluation of huge numbers of heirloom varieties.  The best tasting were combined with a line that provides strong production traits. The result- A great-flavored tomato that performs well!

CLICK HERE, and donate $10 or more to tomato improvement at the University of Florida.  As a thank you gift you'll  receive 20 Garden Gem and 20 Garden Treasure seeds.  Put your shipping info in the space on the bottom. (Don't fill out "appeal code")

Here's the Story:

When you order a sandwich at Subway you can watch the guy lay out pink, anemic tomatoes on your sandwich like a Vegas blackjack dealer flipping produce. They are typically pink discs of disappointment. They are not the red thick tomato slices we remember from home gardens or roadside stands. 

These tomatoes tend be bland, tasteless, and leave plenty of room for improvement, but still are a tremendous success story. Why? They were bred by traditional breeding to produce a consistent size, good shipping quality and resistance to disease.  These production tomatoes are still quite a genetic feat-- here one of the world's most fragile and perishable food has been bred for wide availability as a fresh vegetable product.  That's pretty incredible.  

But these tomatoes have suffered a fate of many traditionally-bred crops. Plant breeders have priorities, and a great tasting soft tomato has no value if it does not make it to market. This is why shipping and disease resistance have to be considered first, with consumer priorities de-emphasized. 

At the same time the opposite is true about the "heirloom".  There is a perception that the "heirloom" varieties have some magical quality that render them superior to commercial varieties.  Actually it is the opposite. An heirloom is simply a tomato that is missing the qualities that make them acceptable for commercial production. In other words, they may taste great but are susceptible to disease, are too small, or would not ship well.  The seeds have great value, but only for specialty markets or home gardens. 

So what if there was a way to merge traditional breeding and heirloom objectives?  This is the concept of Consumer Assisted Selection.  I coined that term back in 2010 or so, as it frames our efforts to produce better quality fruits and vegetables starting with the consumer's desires and working backwards to products.  This is the strategy of the Plant Innovation Center at the University of Florida. 

New, Old Tomatoes

Dr. Harry Klee has a mission- to improve the tomato.  He scoured seed repositories and heirloom catalogs to obtain the constellation of tomato varieties available. Along with his team, they grew acres of heirlooms, then harvested them, cut them into little pieces and gave samples to panelists in an attempt to find the best-tasting tomato. 

Several varieties emerged as clear winners in the taste-test.  However, these came from plants that barely produced any fruit or the fruits were too small for normal production. Typical heirlooms. 

On the other hand, Dr. Jay Scott and the University of Florida Tomato Breeding Program had a tomato that makes a great parent. While it may not have the best flavor, it tends to pass along size and other favorable characteristics to its offspring. If you've ever enjoyed a Tasti-Lee tomato, you're tasting those genetics in action.

Dr. Klee put on his bumble bee outfit and carefully transferred pollen from the heirloom to Dr. Scott's production standard. A few weeks later the flower was gone, and a little green bead grew and expanded into a red, ripe tomato.

And it tasted fantastic.

The Garden Gem and Garden Treasure tomatoes are marriages of high production traits and desired consumer traits. 

These new genetic combinations mixed the best-flavored tomatoes with the best production varieties, bridging these two genetic pools that were separated because of their different breeding priorities.

This is just the beginning.  How do we make better tasting fruits and vegetables?  By listening to consumers first, and then using genetics to hit the target they define.  This is an exciting new track now driving breeding objectives in tomatoes, strawberries and blueberries, among other crops.

We can look forward to new, satisfying varieties that merge the best of production traits with the historical successes that delighted the senses.  These are new heirlooms, and they open an exciting peek of what is coming in plant genetic improvement.  

Here are more details of the story and the individual varieties! I hope you order some seeds and give your feedback to Dr. Klee so he can build your ideas into the future of tomatoes!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

This is What We Are Up Against

This Facebook post frames the problem we face as educators. So much of the public is clueless, paranoid, and knows nothing about basic biology. This is why folks like US-RTK must silence and intimidate scientists.  If anyone learns, they lose their power to influence them. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Manufacturing a Turning Point

When US-RTK filed the public records request on the #science14, they didn't realize they were creating a turning point in public perception.

The public is sick and tired of those that waste limited public funds to abuse important transparency mechanisms, or even hacking, to silence or harass scientists. 

The public sentiment sees this as slimy, expensive, and an undue attack on their public scientists, just like ClimateGate. 

For instance, two days ago there was a post on's facebook page that claimed that I was "afraid" of the public records request and gave the impression that I was somehow refusing to cooperate.  

I posted that I have always been 100% in compliance, and to their credit, they let my post stand.  Within a day, that post had 1000 "likes" and over 1000 supportive comments.  I have obtained screen caps of all of it from Philip Crews and others, and will immortalize that thread on this blog in the coming days. 

My response to their allegations of obfuscation. 944 "likes" when this was captured.  The site was eventually taken down, as their smear campaign was not shaping up the way they wanted it to.

The Facebook Post was Removed- Why?

1. Fear of litigation. I asked them to kindly cease and desist.  Their comments were defamatory and certainly libelous, as they suggest that I am hiding something and refused to comply.  That is patently false, suggests I am not following the law, and absolutely damaging, as it was shared on hundreds of other sites.  Their lawyers probably blew in their ear that they crossed a line.

(MORE LIKELY) 2.  Overwhelming Fail.  Just about every comment on that thread was supportive of me and of science.  It was amazing.  There was nobody able to defend their position that I was not in compliance, and if anything, it came across as repulsive and slimy.  This smear campaign is one that did not go their way.

YOUR Scientists need YOUR help!

Look how your involvement changed an entrenched activist website!  YOU created a turning point in this discussion. 

Remember, I am YOUR scientist.  Whereas they want to paint me as a some back-pocket Monsanto lackey, I'm proud to work in public science.  I'll ALWAYS maintain relationships with these corporations and maybe someday I'll be fortunate enough to talk Monsanto into sponsoring YOUR research. 

The difference between this being an isolated victory and the turning point in public perception is how public YOU help make it.  Let's face it, this attack on YOUR public scientists is wrong, and it is backfiring.  

What you need to do now. 

1.  Use email or Facebook to contact any magazine, paper, whatever, (especially science ones) and bring this to their attention-- a case of public scientists being interrogated and libeled for teaching science. 

2.  Post a note on media websites, facebook pages, include them in tweets.

3.  Go to science-friendly websites and podcast websites, like Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Talk Nerdy, Radio Lab and Science Friday.  Show them how YOUR scientists, the #science14, are being harassed by an expensive nuisance public records request-- because they taught science on a science website!

I've said from the beginning, we must not let US-RTK and activists control this situation. We should not play defense.  Some researchers involved have been told to remain silent. I won't do that. 

This is time for us to go on offense, as people demanding the truth,  as a scientific community, as a concerned citizenry, and as people standing up for science, reason, and THEIR scientists.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rethinking Through Our Temptations

Since the public records request was filed against fourteen public scientists, its intent has become increasingly clearer.  It is nothing more than a hunt for words to smear a few visible public teachers and researchers that engage public dialog in animal and plant biotechnology. The effects are larger, scientists feel a violation of privacy, intimidation, and are less likely to reach out to lay audiences, which is what we should be doing most. 

This is a malicious waste of public resources, and a hunt to harm those that said nothing outside the scientific consensus. 

Baseless personal attacks still hurt, but the truth is out there. Let's resist the urge to put others through this legal invasion of privacy.  (Millions?)

Over the last week I have heard calls to return the favor.  They came from those impacted by the US-RTK action and our supporters.  

Yes, there are a few individuals with university ties that decry transgenic plant technology.  Some have suggested that they should also receive a public records request.  There has been discussion of filing retaliatory requests for their information, their emails, and their written correspondences. 

I disagree, and appeal to not filing any counter-actions. The filing of nuisance FOIA requests to fish for information to harm others that have done nothing ethically wrong is unacceptable.  We should not tolerate it against our friends, and we should not tolerate it against those we disagree with.  

Ironically, they are the ones that speak in opposition to the 99% of scientists, and their motivations are the ones most suspect. These are the folks most likely with interests to protect. 

Let's let the science do the talking.  Let the research continue to accumulate.  Let trained scientists interpret that for an interested public. 

My personal position is to not subject "the other side" to such inappropriate, expensive and uncalled for probes.  They are doing a fine job sinking themselves as they continue to fight science. 

Instead, let's take the high road that they don't know.  Let's continue to stand up for science and reason, let data do the talking, and continue to teach, especially to those we disagree with. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Watershed

This is a blatant attack on science and reason.

It is an attempt to muffle those who teach.

Let's stand up together. 

This could be the turning point.

But YOU have to participate. 

Fight back against the War on Science.  

Thursday, February 19, 2015

True Intentions

All of my private emails are being turned over as per Gary Ruskin's request for public records via US-RTK as planned.  There was never any push back, no question of our compliance. 

But this appeared across the internet today:

Here GMO Inside characterizes me as a "Monsanto Activist" and makes the false statement that there is some sort of non-compliance.  This shows their true intent. 

If we can't even trust these people when we are in full cooperation and compliance with the law and the request, how can we expect them to behave when over two years of private correspondence is turned over to them? 

Frankly, I don't care.  Nothing was done wrong.  There was no crime committed, and my handful of interactions with anyone in the Big Ag world aren't too exciting.

What this shows is that this is NOT about a Right to Know.

This is about a Campaign to Destroy. 

This is an activist desire to harm the reputation of a public scientist. We are in full compliance, never gave any hints otherwise. 

This is a malicious witch hunt, and if this does not prove that, I don't know what does.