Better Halloween Through Science

It turns out that Monsanto, the occasionally controversial biotech company, is hard at work on more than just wheat and maize. They’re also experimenting with how to improve other crops like…pumpkins:

[Monsanto scientist Bill] Johnson said customers want deep orange colors and dark green stems that don’t snap off when you use them to carry the pumpkin. His job is to breed varieties with those qualities with other strains that are resistant to certain viruses or the dreaded powdery mildew.

Monsanto has thousands of breeding lines of pumpkin stock, Johnson said. Most [of] the work is done in California and Florida greenhouses using traditional breeding techniques of mating the best plants with one another over generations.

We don’t always realize it, but even as we go about our day-to-day life, there are people striving to make our pumpkin stems greener, sturdier and spookier. Bless those people. Of course, that isn’t the only Halloween connection going on:

Monsanto’s critics call genetically engineered crops Frankenfoods. In spite of the natural appeal such a label might have for Halloween sales, Johnson said there aren’t any plans to splice pumpkin genes.

“It’s not something that’s on the radar right now,” he said.

A reasonable choice on Monsanto’s part, I think. For the back story on biotech foods and their public reputation, see Greg and Henry’s book, The Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution (Praeger, 2004).