At the dawn of the agricultural revolution, humans began to tinker with our seeds. Over millennia, we’ve managed to breed plants for selective traits and grow more food. As certain crops now dominate our agricultural fields, what will happen to all of those original seeds – and their genetic information – that were used to create our modern food system? We travel to the extreme northern latitudes and visit the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to see how they are trying to curate our changing seeds. In our second story, we see that humans aren’t the only force that tinkers with seeds. With climate change, certain crops might adapt their own biology to warmer conditions. Cassava, a major food staple worldwide that feeds over one billion people, has already shown the potential to adapt in a strange way – by producing more cyanide. We speak with biologist Ros Gleadow to explore the complex relationship with climate change and the changing biology of cassava.
This week, we explore communication: how do we talk? how do we hear? and what the hell are we even saying? And what about the rest of the animal kingdoms? African elephants don’t just communicate through trumpeting – they also use seismic waves. Elephant behavior expert Caitlin O’Connell explains this “second language,” and how it’s helping advance hearing aid technology. She also tells us about her new work of fiction, Ivory Ghosts, which draws attention to the intensifying problem of illegal ivory trade. We then talk to evolutionary biologist Nicole Creanza, who explains that we can learn a lot about early human migration across the globe not just through genetics, but also through our languages.
This episode was produced by Leslie Chang, Mike Osborne, and Miles Traer.
Additional music by Kevin MacLeod (tracks used: Digya and Night Cave. License available here)
This essay was written by Miles Traer. If you’d like to hear Miles read it, click play below.
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The debate surrounding genetically modified organisms, often called GMOs, is an absolute mess. A huge part of the argument stems from genetically modified foods. Some people trumpet GM wheat and corn for its drought resistance and ability to feed more people in parts of the world that desperately need food. Others point to unwanted side effects like the creation of super-weeds and the potential loss of biodiversity as reasons to be wary of this new technology. But what drove my desire to do a GMO story for Generation Anthropocene was something entirely different and was born from two intertwined questions: how did the GMO discussion become so polarized and why does it continue to feel like the topic of GMOs doesn’t allow for a middle ground? Continue reading
Today, we take a little bit of break from talking about science to instead talk about how media covers science, particularly the reporting on genetically modified organisms (more commonly called GMOs). It’s a contentious subject, and Keith talks about why people tend to take it so personally, when he got interested in GMOs, and what caused him to become the “crop cop.”