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Are We Ready For Genetically Modified Broccoli?

If you wonder why you rarely see broccoli at your local farmers market an article in The New York Times will shed some clues. Broccoli doesn't take well to heat, and has a hard time growing anywhere outside of California, let alone in sweltering Texas. That's why Thomas Bjorkman, a plant scientist at Cornell University, is working to improve the bitter vegetable's heat tolerance with biotechnology.

The new super-broccoli grows as well in South Carolina as it does in temperate California. And while they were working on heat tolerance his team also bumped up the sweetness, and improved the texture of every child's natural sworn enemy. The hope is to create a broccoli that everyone will love and eat willingly. But is that a good thing?

Genetically modified foods have become synonymous with Monsanto, the corporate giant making waves by developing plants that can stand up to a heavy dousing of pesticides. Bjorkman collaborates with the seed giant, which is also developing genetically modified vegetables, drawing the skepticism of purists who would rather see broccoli and other crops stay just they way they are.

Bjorkman stops short of the genetic engineering practices that make some nervous. Instead he's using petri dishes and Marvin Gaye music to make two plants that wouldn't otherwise get along indulge in a little sexy time. On the one hand it's nice to see scientists working on wholesome produce instead of bulk crops that are destined to become processed food. On the other hand isn't broccoli fine, you know, just the way it is?

The Cornell lab has also turned out a full-flavored habanero pepper without the face-numbing heat. What's the point of that?


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