Attack of the killer tomatoes?
Thursday October 23, 2003
Talk bad science
Â· I was excited to hear about the Chinese space programme’s exotic sounding “space breeding” project. In most other nations this means studying how plants grow in space, and producing food for orbiting astronauts: but in China, it means using radiation to breed giant space tomatoes. Seriously. According to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, China’s Shenzhou manned capsule, launched last November, carried seeds of various vegetables and 30 types of herbal medicine. Scientists from the Space Breeding Research Centre claim that rice seeds returned from space have a 10-15% greater yield but, most excitingly, report on a new strain of tomato, called “Space Tomato No 1”, which can grow to be as heavy as 800 grams. That’s 800 grams each. And China Today says that “in Daxing, a suburban county of Beijing, many farmers have become interested in a new kind of large pepper, which they call “space pepper”. Each space pepper weighs 350 to 500 grams, and has a high vitamin C content. Its yield has increased by some 30% over ordinary peppers, and it has proved to have good marketability. The space pepper was shown on TV not long ago as a symbol of changing Chinese society.
Â· Chinese scientists, it is reported, explain that these comic book mutations take place because of the radiation in space and the decreased gravity. Meanwhile, western commentators have expressed surprise at all the fuss since you can easily stick a radioactive source next to your seeds without going into space, and, much like nuclear fallout, the vast majority of mutations would be harmful anyway.
Â· The American Physical Society claim that when they contacted Xinhua they were assured that “in China the radiation effect is always positive, leading to bigger and better vegetables that will revolutionise agriculture”. So maybe if I tip a load of radioactive material on to my testicles in China, I’ll impregnate my girlfriend with giant space babies.
Â· Meanwhile, more peddlers of the obvious: researchers at Harvard University have found that when beer is cheaper, and readily available in large quantities, students drink more…