Transgenic Weeds Help Hackers Poach Corn Computing Cycles

March, 4, 2015
DECATUR, IL–Edible resources giant Archer Daniels Midland today launched a legal and public relations campaign designed to discourage poachers from using new breeds of transgenic weeds to siphon off computer cycles generated by fields planted with SmartCorn, an engineered corn variety equipped with DNA-based computational and networking powers. “We want to make clear that there is zero tolerance for ‘weedhacking,'” declared ADM CTO Alice Montie. “In partnership with Monsanto, the inventor of SmartCorn, we are launching this campaign to educate the public, and to make sure that hackers know that every weed they nurture takes food out of the mouths of hungry children.”

SmartCorn, developed four years ago by Monsanto and University of Nebraska researchers, is one of a number of popular engineered “dual use” crops planted throughout the Midwest. Like ADM’s own Piezowheat, SmartCorn enables growers to harvest a new economy crop while also growing an old economy staple. “Our business, and that of our partner-growers, is enjoying a renaissance thanks to crops like SmartCorn,” explains ADM’s Montie. “In the three years since we’ve started system-wide deployment of SmartCorn, we’ve become the number one supplier of computer cycles to world markets. We’re not just the ‘Supermarket to the World,’ we’re also its Supercomputer.”

ADM’s new campaign targets the practice of “weedhacking,” the use of transgenic weeds with computational capacities like those of SmartCorn to hijack or manipulate fields of the number-crunching crop. Headline-grabbing weedhacking hjinks over the past year, including the introduction of widespread errors into calculations of inventories for WalMart stores and the creation of ‘crop circles’ through directed growth of corn-parasitic weeds, have depressed the market value of both Nebraska and Iowa Corn Cycles. “These hackers have got to face the consequences of their actions,” exclaims Montie. “This isn’t just harmless fun. One DOS attack on a hundred-acre field goes right to our bottom line. When we lose that profit, we have to raise the prices of the underlying crops. At some point, higher prices mean that fewer kids can eat.”

Research carried out at the Universities of Nebraska and Iowa on the weeds favored by hackers, including transgenic versions of Milkweed, Sandbur, Hemp Dogbane, and Leafy Spurge, indicate that each developed as a result of ‘gene flow’ from SmartCorn itself. “The hackers are getting a bit of a bum rap,” notes Iowa Professor Milton Trea. “The weeds inherited their computational and networking functions from the Corn. The SmartCorn genes are acting sort of like rogue genes, inserting themselves easily into other genomes. You can’t blame the ‘weedhackers’ for that.”

Members of the weedhacking community point to research like Trea’s to rebut ADM’s claims. “Most people in the community are just engaged in research into the way these weeds function and how they behave in the environment,” explains one poster in a popular weedhacking forum. “Weedhacking does nothing to interfere with ADM’s business. This campaign is aimed at squashing open, public understanding of these weeds and how they work and communicate. ADM and Monsanto are responsible for these weeds, but they don’t own them. The weeds are free, and we should be free to study them.”

Reached through remailer, Gee Me Crack Corn, a self-described “weedcracker” claiming responsibility for more than 800 DOS attacks and the popular “death’s head” crop circle, remains defiant: “My cracks are legendary. Every crack that makes the news gets more people thinking about what’s going on. ADM and Monsanto are letting understudied genes loose in the environment. Now that’s a crime.”

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.