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  • Stacking the Biotech Deck

    Back in the 1970s the awesome news that scientists had learned how to redesign genes started a regulatory flurry. Distinguished panels met to ask imponderable questions. Could some human-created form of life carry self-multiplying havoc into the world? How can we prevent such a disaster? Image: Courtesy DOE Human Genome Project. Back then genetic escapes […]

  • Take the World Food Quiz

    Gathering grain in Sudan. In some ways the world food situation hasn’t changed for decades. There are still millions of starving people. There are still places where so much food is grown that it has to be thrown away. Fertilizers and pesticides pollute the countryside; soil erodes; groundwater tables drop. Every year when the new […]

  • He's all abuzz about socially responsible coffee

    I am in the local coffee shop in Paonia, Colo., drinking a cup of joe and pleasantly anticipating its effects on my brain. My companion, Eli Wolcott, isn’t drinking a drop. He doesn’t ask what coffee can do for him; he asks what he can do for coffee. Eli Wolcott (the mug’s just a prop). […]

  • It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

    Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (known familiarly as CJD) is something you do not want to get. Your brain degenerates, piece by piece. First you feel depressed, then you have trouble coordinating. You lose sight, speech, motor control, as the disease travels through the brain. When it reaches the control centers for breathing or heartbeat, you die. Medical […]

  • It's Report-Card Time

    The timing is unbearable. Here on my desk in the middle of the blooming, buzzing month of May is the best report yet on the state of the world’s ecosystems. Best not because it contains good news — it doesn’t — but because it’s short and clear and blunt. The report evaluates the health of […]

  • Do we know enough about genetically modified foods?

    Genetically modified foods — you’ve heard about them, but you probably don’t know whether you’re eating them. They’re produced by splicing genes, those little segments of DNA that code for particular traits, from one plant or animal species and inserting them into another. Biotechnology companies are cooking up all sorts of techniques to engineer organisms […]

  • Bean Counting

    3,300 — number of cups of coffee that are consumed each second worldwide 6.3 million — metric tons of coffee produced in the world in the 1999-2000 crop year 25 million — number of farmers who grow coffee worldwide, the majority on small-scale farms 600-800 AD — the era in which an Ethiopian goat herder […]

  • Let's Look Before We Leap into Biotech

    Biotech stocks plummeted last week as President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair requested that companies make their data on the human genome public. Private firms are racing madly to read and patent the genetic code that makes you you and me me. They are trying to beat publicly funded labs, which are required […]

  • More Than Meats the Eye

    8 pounds of grain are needed to produce one pound of beef 2,464 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of beef 40 percent of grain is fed to livestock, poultry, or fish China’s grain consumption increased by 40 million tons between 1990 and 1995 — and 33 million of those tons were […]