Food and Science Festival, Mantova, Italy

Here’s a nice summary of the talk I gave at the Food & Science Festival in Mantova, Italy.  The “quotes” are made up — I spoke in English, not Italian — but consistent with what I said.  Whoever wrote it obviously had a scientific background and was impressively thorough, but I  have a few corrections (based on Google-translated English version):

  • Bacteria that make antibiotics to kill Xylella (which kills olive trees) could be GMO, but non-GMO options already exist.  And my alternative suggestion (bacteria that eat Xylella gum, clearing the path for water flow to the leaves) could be GMO or not.  (Similarly, my crop-improvement ideas are not pro-GMO or anti-GMO.) Also, I may not have made if clear why I worry about antibiotic-making bacteria evolving to kill bacteria other than Xylella.  The main reason is that then they might not be evolving to keep killing Xylella.
  • evolution has caused a mutation” should be “natural selection (imposed by crop rotation) increased the frequency of an initially-rare mutation
  • artificial selection can be a bit off this feature because it is favored by evolution simply because of the most reproductive success” is confusing, maybe a poor translation.  What I said was that natural selection in maize and its wild ancestors gave us bigger male flowers (shading leaves below) than is optimal for whole-field yield.  This is because individual plants with bigger flowers (like male elk with bigger antlers) have more offspring, even if that hurts the species as a whole.  I think I also mentioned that plant breeders have gradually reduced the size of male flowers, apparently as a side-effect of selecting for small-plot yield.

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