Saturday, December 24, 2005

A post unconnected to my faith!

Yes, I thought the current issue of the Economist had such an interesting article on wheat (!) that I thought I would give you a couple of snippets.

Today scientists use thermal neutrons, X-rays, or ethyl methane sulphonate, a harsh carcinogenic chemical—anything that will damage DNA—to generate mutant cereals. Virtually every variety of wheat and barley you see growing in the field was produced by this kind of "mutation breeding". No safety tests are done; nobody protests. The irony is that genetic modification (GM) was invented in 1983 as a gentler, safer, more rational and more predictable alternative to mutation breeding—an organic technology, in fact. Instead of random mutations, scientists could now add the traits they wanted. [...]

The world population growth rate, in percentage terms, had been climbing steadily since the second world war (bar a two-year drop in 1959-60 caused by Mao Xedong). But in the mid 1960s it stopped rising. And by 1974 it was falling significantly. The number of people added each year kept on rising for a while, but even that peaked in 1989, and then began falling steadily. Population was still growing, but it was adding a smaller and smaller number each year.

Demographers, who had been watching the exponential rise with alarm, now forecast that the population will peak below ten billion—ten gigapeople—not long after 2050. Such a low forecast would have been unthinkable just two decades ago. Already, in developing countries, the number of children born per woman has fallen from six to three in 50 years. It will have reached replacement-level fertility (where deaths equal births) by 2035.

I must be comfortable with my status as a geek because I am happy to admit I found that article on the history of wheat truly amazing! The Economist must be in a Christmas mood because the article is public domain, as is the much more boring special report on the business-like behaviour of some churches, and one on how religion is materially good for you.


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