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Genetically engineered microbes make fertilizer

Interesting! Might never need to buy fertilizers or amendments ever again with these little guys.

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As long as the bacteria don’t proliferate and spread unnecessary ammonia everywhere :slight_smile: I think we just gave Michael Crichton his next book idea.

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There are already plenty of plants, animals and fungi that make awesome fertilizer. We don’t need more stinkin’ GMO’s that some company is going to patent and own and control the market with. With a well integrated and managed soil food web you never need to fertilize again. You should check out the Terra Preta soils of the Amazon…

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I’m certainly not opposed to organic fertilizer. The more the merrier!

But realistically, modern agriculture at large is propped up by synthetic fertilizers – ammonia made from atmospheric nitrogen via an industrial process. These GMO bacteria simply make the process portable, require very little shipping, and consume no electricity. If companies try to make these bacteria “expensive,” there’s still the old tried-and-true synthetic method of manufacturing fertilizer.

Realistically modern synthetic agriculture is destroying our biosphere and ecosystems. There are only so many dead dinosaurs and piles of fossilized bat shit that we can extract and refine. Peak phosphorus is rapidly approaching.

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You won’t find me denying that bad agricultural practices are resulting in ecological disasters. But I think these bacteria represent a more sustainable means of increasing soil nitrogen levels without producing the hazardous runoff that many farms create.

As the original article states, without synthetic fertilizers, some statisticians estimate the human population would never exceed 4 billion. We’re already well above that mark.

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Alternatively we could use legume cover crops (which fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil) - think clovers, alfalfas, beans etc, rotational grazing from livestocks and more to create better soils.

And maybe we could change our diets to something that suits a better pathway to a sustainable future other than corn, wheat and soy…

But that is a conversation for another time… :wink:

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Yes monsanto would love it if everyone believed that little false factoid…

I don’t think that’s a false factoid. For thousands of years, the human population barely exceeded 250 million. The main reason there’s so many of us now is the industrial revolution.

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The world could sustainably support many more than it does if it was not shackled by corporations controlling the supply chain and raping the wealth. With massive famines emerging in Africa right now - there are gluts of food all over the planet - we in North America waste a disgusting amount.

There has a lot of marketing and propoganda in the last 5-10 years that GMO are the only way out - there is huge amount of money riding on the patenting of plants and microbes and controlling our food supply.

If you control the food. You control the people.

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The industrial revolution does not have to be a synthetic food system - tractors and technology can be used in sustainable and regenerative ways the rebuild the soil and ecosystems. We don’t need to just rape and pillage - which was the Colonialist expansionist attitude that drove much of the Industrial Revolution… We could work in harmony and foster the ecosystem to be really productive - for eg. Terra preta soils. Which after hundreds of years are still productive whereas our synthetic soils have at most 30 years left in them.

I think you misunderstand what I’m saying. I don’t think that GMOs are the only way out, not in the slightest. There are many ways out of the hole we have dug. We don’t have to continue on the path of ecological destruction until the Earth can sustain us no more. Here’s some things we can do:

  • Enact government policies to check human growth and ecological damage until new or better solutions are found.
  • New technologies and sciences to solve shortage problems.
  • More sustainable practices.

All 3 are tools to fix crises that don’t require unethical or unreasonable methods. The problem with GMOs is rarely the GMOs themselves, but the companies that own the rights to them. The overarching problem, at least in my opinion, is capitalism.

I agree that we could work in harmony with the ecosystem. Improving soil fertility can be done organically. The issue is that organic methods of improving soil fertility are labor-intensive and cannot improve soil fertility as much as synthetic means.

But that’s the nifty thing about this new bacteria – it’s not a synthetic way of improving soil fertility. It would exist in the ecosystem along with other bacteria, improving topsoil without creating excesses and runoff.

That is the great fallacy that the industrial system wants and needs you to keep believing.

We already have all the bacteria, fungi, micro and macro organisms we need - we just need to keep the synthetics out so that they can live and do their job. As soon as you add synthetics - you kill the soil biota. And then you need GMO bacteria to replace it and fix the excess nutrient issues from our broken industrial system…

Like I said. This is a HUGE discussion. GMO technology will not save us. It will just further increase the problem, reduce the natural landrace populations (of all species) and replace them with lab mutated genetics that we have no idea how they will really work in a massively dynamic ecosystem.

All the methods you describe are more labor-intensive, but fertility in the long-term is better with organic. I misspoke on that point, and you are right.

You’re making a lot of big assumptions about the way soil microbiomes work. First of all, most bacteria have an ability that us animals don’t – they pick up DNA from the environment. If it’s good DNA (for them), they keep it, and if it’s bad (for them), they toss it. This is how MRSA became such a problem ; Staphylococcus aureus started picking up the DNA of bacteria that were resistant to antibiotics and acquired multiple resistances in a very short period of time.

These genes to make fertilizer in the soil are subjected to rigorous closed tests to ensure 1) The plasmids are transmitted and kept and 2) Not hazardous to natural environments. There are large, intensive environmental studies done on new inventions/GMOs such as these to ensure environmental safety.

I agree that it is a huge discussion. It’s important and shouldn’t be brushed aside.

But GMOs are not the demon you make them out to be. In the past, new scientific creations and inventions were employed without full concern being paid to their long-term ramifications. This stretches from electricity to asbestos to radiation to Africanized honey bees, and more. Because of these numerous mistakes, the process for testing new organisms that might have an environmental impact is much more stringent than it used to be. We learn from our mistakes.

The problem comes not from the science, it comes from the corporations that pay for this kind of R&D. Most corporations want to push products immediately once a proof of concept has been established to recoup any losses during the research process and make money. As a scientist myself, I can say that the science behind most GMOs is solid. Most of the food we eat today was genetically modified in some way, shape, or form. Watermelons, bananas, and grapes are a perfect example of this.

The problem stems from corporate misbehavior and perverse incentives. This kind of behavior is also visible on the anti-GMO side.

I’d say I have a pretty reasonable understanding. I’ve spent the last 10 years as a biointensive organic farmer with the core focus on building the soil food web and maintaining a healthy soil ecosystem to support life.

Be careful what you assume… :wink:

GMO’s are a tool of corporations. We really don’t need them. But if you want to believe the PR sheets that is fine. It is up to you. There is no GMO utopia waiting for us. It is just a more tightly controlled corporate food chain. “If you control the food you control the people.” Until it is publicly funded open source technology and tested for decades - GMO’s have no place in our food system. We really do not understand enough of the long term ecosystem impacts. Learning from mistakes only works if that mistake doesn’t destroy your food system or ecosystem.