Engineered Corn Communicates, Crunches Numbers

Jan. 14, 2047
LINCOLN, NE–A team of researchers at the University of Nebraska announced this week the successful growth and testing of a new strain of corn endowed with rudimentary computational abilities. The strain, to be marketed by University of Nebraska sponsor Monsanto under the brand name SmartCorn, makes use of principles of distributed, networked computation to communicate information about the health and condition of the plant and to solve computation-intensive problems. “Our goals with SmartCorn were twofold,” notes Monsanto VP of Corn and Pomegranates Leslie Studebaker, “first, to help growers gather information about their plants, and second, to generate surplus computational cycles that growers could sell on the open market. I’m happy to say that these recent results indicate that we’ve found the solution we were looking for.”

SmartCorn makes use of “genetic” or “DNA” computation in which genetically planned biologic processes function in computer-like ways to solve problems and to generate and follow algorithms. “Basically, SmartCorn includes an additional set of chromosomes responsible for development of computational organelles and structures,” explains Nebraska Professor of Bioinformatics Jules Gasse. “In conjunction with additional modifications to the traditional NovaLink genome, this genetic material gives SmartCorn notable computational power.”

In addition to its computer power, SmartCorn is also equipped with networking functionality. Each stalk dynamically generates “micropollens” that encode information, and tag it with a destination and origin address tied to a stalk-identifying signature composed of a series of genetic polymorphisms. The leaves of each plant “route” information by duplicating and spreading micropollens addressed to other plants, and absorbing and processing instructions and data that match their genetically encoded address.

“We call SmartCorn a smart crop/dumb network solution,” notes Professor Gasse. “We were willing to sacrifice efficiency on the networking side just to get access to the phenomenal computational power involved. Imagine all of the cornfields in the Midwest functioning as one giant super-computer. We would probably be able to discover a new prime number every growing season!”

Growers can communicate with their SmartCorn crops through a pollen-generating interface box that connects to a computer through a standard USB2 port. Using special software, growers can “harvest” the excess processor cycles generated by the crop and auction them off through an automated exchange.

More importantly, growers can also gather information about the health of the crop, and send instructions into the field, including instructions for individual plants. “One of the interactive instruction sets we’re looking at will connect SmartCorn to the irrigation controls so individual plants can request water as-needed,” explains Professor Gasse. “The increase in yield and efficiency alone would be spectacular.”

Contacted about the SmartCorn announcement, FDA officials confirmed that the new plant is undergoing fast-track testing for human consumption-grade use. “We’re very confident on Federal approval,” indicates Monsanto VP Studebaker. “To be frank, we paid more attention to our focus groups, who all rated SmartCorn at least as tasty as NovaLink, and, on average, more flavorful than AuntMableSupreme. That’s the kind of approval we’re looking for.”

Brand Dyslexia Declared ‘Epidemic’

Dec. 8, 2072
ATLANTA–The Center for Consumer Diseases today announced the official classification of Brand Dyslexia Disorder, or BDD, as an “epidemic.” The change in classification frees up federal funding for round-the-clock research and steps-up authorization for nation-wide epidemiological studies. “The acceleration in the spread of BDD is alarming and unprecedented,” notes CCD Head of Syndromal Illness Research Dr. Evelyn Ditch. “The re-classification is meant to mobilize the research community in hopes of containing and treating this debilitating disease.”

BDD is a progressive disorder affecting the ability of its victims to perceive and remember the correct relationship between brands and branded objects. People suffering from BDD often have difficulty picking out objects according to their brand preference. At later stages, victims consistently confuse branded objects with other, nearby branded objects. “At first it seemed almost amusing, and didn’t happen that often,” explains Robert Lilo, afflicted with BDD for the past 18 months. “Later on it would happen all the time. I’d be in the market, thinking I was grabbing Coke off the shelf only to get home and have my wife explain to me that I’d actually got Pepsi. Now it happens at home, too. I’ll think I’m putting TIDE in the machine, when I’m really putting in Liquid-Plumr.”

Little is known about the causes of BDD, but early research suggests the disorder is linked to excess stimulation of a region of the brain’s limbic area known as “Folgers Region” and associated with brand perception and processing. CCD’s Ditch explains: “In BDD, we see excess neural firing in the Folgers Region, almost to the point of seizure. In addition to neural hyper-activity, patients afflicted with BDD typically have much more neural development in the Region, leading some of us to suspect that there may be a genetic marker for predisposition to BDD.”

Though currently classed with other neurochemically rooted perceptual and learning disorders in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IX, BDD’s recent infectious spread has experts concerned that the disorder is contagious. Statistical “regression analysis” of the timing and distribution of reported cases has suggested that BDD has more in common with the flu than with other psychiatric diseases.

Amid speculation that BDD is spread by a conventional infectious agent, at least one BDD researcher has suggested, instead, that the disorder may be caused by excessive viewing of brand advertising and branded media. “We might imagine, at some point, a sort of saturation of the brain’s ability to process brands,” notes Johns Hopkins Professor of Clinical Psychiatry Dr. Josef Blitz. “The brain becomes over-programmed. The brands are too deeply embedded, ossifying the Folgers Region, paralyzing the brain’s ability to respond to new brand stimulus. This theory would explain the epidemiology we see. In the same way that an individual brain reaches a saturation point, so too might a population. The more branded media we dump into the population, the more BDD will spread.”

Some public health officials have expressed misgivings about the CCD’s BDD re-classification. “I question whether this decision was made based on the health threat posed by BDD, or by the threat it poses to the advertising industry,” notes longtime CCD critic Dr. Lilly Labour. “BDD has gotten an awful quick response from the administration for a something that’s not life threatening. Is this the government spending health dollars to protect the health of real people, or to protect the health of American brands?”

Celera Issues Recall of ‘Diet’ Gene

May 3, 2045
ROCKVILLE, MD–Celera Genomics Group, on behalf of Cosmetabolics, a joint venture formed by Celera and Bayer AG, today issued statements confirming that the company will recall model years 2044 and 2045 of its popular ProPhage gene. “Reports of an unusual number of so-called ‘rollover’ mishaps among our ProPhage customers prompted the recall action,” noted Celera press materials released at the time of the recall notice. “Though the vast majority of our ProPhage customers are not at risk, we take the safety of our customers very seriously and are recalling specified models pending further safety testing.”

ProPhage is among the most popular of the over-the-counter “diet gene” therapies and is available in 52 countries around the world. Using a combination of viral and non-viral mechanisms, ProPhage adjusts the body’s metabolic processes in order to decrease fat storage and promote cosmetically targeted muscle growth.

An increasing number of ProPhage users have reported “rollover” accidents popularly attributed to the impact of ProPhage on the body’s center of gravity. Some users of the 2044 and ’45 models complain of a “top-weighting” or “lopsided” distribution of muscle tissue, resulting in a tendency to fall, or tip over, while cornering during running, jogging, trotting, and aerobic fast-walking.

“I had heard that my balance might be affected by [ProPhage],” reports Hank Kiln, a user of the 2044 model, “but what really happened was that my shoulders and neck got all built out, and I lost weight in my hips and thighs, my problem areas. My love handles too. But I kept losing my balance. I would be out at the track, doing my laps, coming around the turn and, all of the sudden, WHAP! I’d tip over.”

“While we have heard the rumors, we have not, ourselves, received any real complaints,” notes Celera spokeswoman Indra Croope. “Every year our new model of ProPhage, by design, targets a different cosmetic objective. Every model year is also thoroughly tested. We are recalling ’44 and ’45 just to be safe.”

The recall is not the only recent public relations problem Celera has faced over ProPhage. A December class-action suit filed by former ProPhage users alleges that Celera engages in unethical credit and repossession practices. Among allegations in the suit were claims that Celera’s financing department provided inadequate notice of customer default, and that its repossession procedures violated customers’ privacy.

“How do you repo a gene?” demands Milton Mannman, the DC attorney who filed the suit. “I’ll tell you what they do. If you’re still getting the treatment, they slip you a ‘repo’ therapy in the place of what you think you’re getting. If you’re all set with the ProPhage genes, they send a sneaky repo guy to spike your food with a reversing treatment.”

“The suit was properly dismissed,” responds Celera’s Croope. “The Court recognized that genetic products like ProPhage require different standards. Most people can’t afford to pay for a ProPhage license in cash, so we offer financing arrangements just to make our therapies as widely attainable as possible. That’s an important public good. But, we can only do that if we have recourse when people don’t meet their obligations.”

The recall of ProPhage 2044 and ’45 provides authenticated users with a replacement treatment in the form of a limited re-issue of the popular 2039 model. Notices have been forwarded to all known customers. If you are a ProPhage user within the scope of the recall, contact your dispensing agent for further information.

Researchers Seek Treatment for Mad Soybean Disease

Aug. 19, 2058
NEW YORK–Officials for the World Health Organization announced today the funding of a special initiative dedicated to discovering improved treatment and diagnosis of Bovine-Derived Tofuiform Encephalopathy (BDTE), more commonly known as Mad Soybean Disease. “Though confirmed cases of BDTE have not been many in number, their global distribution, coupled with the widespread consumption of bovine-derived soy products, is a matter for prudent concern,” explained WHO spokesperson Wilfred Inkling.

The disease is closely associated with the consumption of bovine-derived tofu. Prior to widely publicized recent cases of BDTE, few consumers realized that some 30% of tofu sold worldwide was at least in part bovine-derived. “The tofu industry doesn’t want to talk about bovine-derived tofu because they know the market will be suspicious,” claims Haril Paltry, executive director of transgenics watchdog group Generation One. “And we should be suspicious. The public needs to know about how this stuff is produced.”

Bovine-derived tofu is harvested from a proprietary, transgenic Soy Cow developed and patented by Soystock inc., a soy industry collaborative standards and research corporation. A full-grown Soy Cow resembles a traditional cow whose flesh is composed of food-grade tofu. The tofu is harvested three to four times each season using techniques derived from the traditional shearing of wool. A freshly-shorn Soy Cow begins to re-grow tofu-flesh on its lean, grey-houndish frame within hours. During its ten-year lifespan, the typical Soy Cow will produce more than 32 tons of tofu.

“People naturally react negatively to unfamiliar innovations,” points out lead Soystock researcher Phillipa Reade. “I think the public is ready for this. We haven’t been advertising the Soy Cow, but we haven’t made it a secret either. The control we have over the product through control of the Soy Cow genome is phenomenal. We’ve been able to very closely link Soy Cow behaviors with desirable product qualities. The firmness of the tofu, for instance, is tied to the exercise regime of the stock animals.”[p]
Reade is more circumspect when questioned about BDTE: “BDTE is a serious concern, but I don’t think all of the evidence is in yet. People tend to jump to the conclusion that it is related to Soy Cow tofu when it may be a consequence of engineering of traditionally grown soy, or even of centuries of traditional soy husbandry. We know much more about the Soy Cow genome because we planned every nucleotide in it. We know much less about traditional soy.”

BDTE’s symptoms include the rapid development of tofu-like plaques in the spine and in the frontal lobes of the brain, causing dementia, amnesia, uncontrollable body tremors, periodic seizures, and, ultimately, brain death. To date, few treatments have been effective. Public domain drugs for treatment of BSE-1, BDE, and BSE-211 have produced noticeable, but temporary relief of some symptoms.

“We don’t yet fully understand BDTE’s vectors,” notes WHO’s Inkling. “Because of the lengthy incubation period–as long as 15 years in some cases–we have determined that research dollars should be allocated now, rather than later. If preliminary investigation indicates that BDTE causative agents are relatively uncommon in the population, then we’ll re-evaluate our decision. Until then, however, a dedicated research initiative is the only humane response.”