Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The True Potential Of Genetic Engineering

(Ben, This is for you!)
LAZARO CARDENAS, Mexico (AP) -- Soldiers trying to seize control of one Mexico's top drug-producing regions found the countryside teeming with a new hybrid marijuana plant that can be cultivated year-round and cannot be killed with pesticides.


"These plants have been genetically improved," he told a handful of journalists allowed to accompany soldiers on a daylong raid of some 70 marijuana fields. "Before we could cut the plant and destroy it, but this plant will come back to life unless it's taken out by the roots..."
The technology to add novel genes to plants is fairly well established, and it's not terribly expensive or difficult to set up a lab that can do so. Which raises some interesting questions about the future of the "war on drugs." If the genes for psychoactive drugs were to be transferred from the original plant species to other common plants, it would be nearly impossible to control the production of those drugs.

This would not only increase drug availability, it also would tend to undercut the drug rings that are dependent on tightly controlling drug production and transport in order to make their money. Another interesting implication is that the option for governments to legalize (and tax) drugs like marijuana may be closing. If virtually any plant in your yard could produce THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, you're probably not going to be as willing to go out and pay for it.

I should qualify this by saying that it takes several genes to make THC, and I suspect most other plant-based psychoactive drugs are similarly genetically complex. So it won't be trivial to transfer them to other plants. But it can and will be done eventually, and we would be foolish not to plan for that.

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