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.”