Geneticist suggests solution to political gridlock


Glut stage is like flood stage.

The only difference is what there’s too much of.

This fall, we’re at glut stage in two things: Corn and politics.

The first is measured in bushels, and a 14 billion-bushel harvest seems possible. The second is measured in shovels-full and seems to be rising faster than the national debt.

Let’s all for a moment to give thanks for nature’s infinite wisdom in making the prevailing winds in our nation blow from west to east.

Thank you.

Despite circumstances that called for the pause, I confess to having felt a recent surge of optimism about our political future.

It’s based on my discovery of our how our production of shovels-full might be reduced by following the advice of the son of a Clark County sharecropper who long ago built the foundation for this year’s booming corn harvest.

Without being told he was born in 1874, some might guess George Harrison Shull was named for a prominent musician from Liverpool, England.

Not so. But there is this connection: If the Beatles revolutionized the world of music, George Harrison Shull revolutionized the world of agriculture.

No less a luminary than James Watson, who with Francis Crick discovered the double helix of human genetics. Watson said this:

“In a true sense corn genetics all started in Cold Springs Harbor (N.Y.) when George Shull came here.”

That was in 1904.

A fuller explanation of Shull’s groundbreaking work and improbable rise will appear in an article in Monday’s News-Sun.

For today’s purposes, I’ll just say that the astounding increases in crop yield since the 1930s are largely due to Shull’s two-step genetic technique:

1. Inbreeding two separate strains of corn over generations to reduce each plant to its purest characteristics.

2. Cross-breeding those pure strains into a hybrid, allowing the strong characteristics of each to overwhelm the weaker characteristics of the other, making a more vibrant and productive plant.

To get to the purebred stage, of course, requires living for a time with the problems of inbreeding, which tends to producer sicklier, less productive plants before they’re joined in a healthy hybrid.

The question of whether time is yet ripe for the cross pollination of Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner to produce a hybrid legislator with more desirable characteristics is thus a theoretical possibility.

A moment’s pause, however, and we realize doing so presents a certain moral hazard and a substantial risk for unintended consequences.

Fortunately, Shull’s story points to another solution that seems more promising.

In a 1998 edition of “Perspectives,” the magazine of the Genetics Society of America, the late associate editor James Crow told the story of a sharp disagreement Shull had with another of the emerging giants of corn hybrids, E.M. East of Connecticut State College.

East was so convinced by Shull’s basic insight, that he confessed “I … wonder why I have been so stupid as not to see the fact myself.”

Still, he thought Shull’s idea was almost wholly impractical.

As Crow explains, “the puny inbred lines (of corn) produced such small quantities of seed” that raising enough of them to make hybrid seed for mass planting was far too expensive.

“The great cost of seed, he thought, negated any increased yield of the hybrids.”

The two parties soon found themselves squarely at odds and in danger of having a showdown that likely would have been repeated over and over again, trapping them in an ultimately destructive drama that could have dragged on indefinitely.

In 1910, in the face of this “strong disagreement,” Crow writes, Shull and East “agreed not to let this become an open debate nor to let personalities intrude” as events unfolded.

Adds Crow, “They remained true to their word.”

The parallel seems simple: If we could agree to govern like we raise corn — with an eye toward productivity — things might work out.

And it seems all the more persuasive if the alternative involves cross-pollination.

I’m just sayin’ ….


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Community News

Boy and cow snuggle at fair in viral photo that the internet is loving
Boy and cow snuggle at fair in viral photo that the internet is loving

A father captured a picture of his son snuggled up with their cow, and, of course, internet users found it prize-worthy.  Mitchell Miner, 15, of Iowa, and his cow, Audri, had a long day at the Iowa State Fair after competing in the youth cattle show Sunday. So, the best friends decided to take a nap.  “I was asleep. I think she...
Bonnie Tyler to sing 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' on cruise during solar eclipse
Bonnie Tyler to sing 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' on cruise during solar eclipse

It's the epic matchup you've been waiting for, bright eyes: Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and a real-life total solar eclipse. According to Time, Tyler, backed by DNCE, will perform the iconic 1983 song aboard Royal Caribbean's Total Eclipse Cruise during Monday's Great American Eclipse. The cruise aboard the Oasis of the...
Investigation into Natalee Holloway’s disappearance leads to discovery of human remains
Investigation into Natalee Holloway’s disappearance leads to discovery of human remains

Twelve years after her unsolved disappearance, human remains have been discovered in connection to a search for Natalee Holloway. Her father, Dave Holloway, and private investigator T.J. Ward announced on Wednesday’s episode of “TODAY” that an 18-month investigation, which was documented for an Oxygen show that airs Sunday...
Confederate monument in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles removed
Confederate monument in Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles removed

The Long Beach chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy has removed a monument to the Confederacy at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. KABC reported that many were unaware that the Confederate memorial was in the cemetery. It was installed in 1925. “The Daughters said we are a benevolent organization. We didn’t seek this attention....
2 Antioch students witness car attack in Charlottesville
2 Antioch students witness car attack in Charlottesville

Two Antioch College students in Charlottesville said they never will forget what they saw when protests turned deadly. “People were running in every direction. It was like a bomb had gone off. It was chaos, it was pandemonium,” said Spencer Glazer, a photojournalism major who wanted to document Saturday’s event. Glazer and Daniel...
More Stories