Cyanogenic Plants Add Fuel to the GM Fire

by Rebecca Phillips, Biology Major

A case of 15 cows mysteriously dying on a ranch near Austin, TX underscores the dangerous consequences of ignorance surrounding environmental impacts on plant chemistry.

In June, 2012, a man named Jerry Abel let his herd of 18 cows out to graze on his ranch. After a few hours “only three were still alive” (Blum). Abel reported the strange deaths to his local news station at which point they prematurely linked the deaths to “genetically modified grass”.
CBS ran with the story and pretty soon anti-GM bloggers and activists were running amok. What they failed to research; however, is that the tainted grass in question was a “decades old hybrid grass” known as Tifton 85.

Tifton 85, like many other plants, is cyanogenic—meaning it stores cyanide in an inactive, sugar-bound form. However, when the hybrid is put under stress, such as the draught occurring at the time of the poisonings, the bonds can break releasing toxic levels of cyanide.
This case illustrates how quick society has become to place blame on GM crops and plants, even at the expense of accurate information that could prevent another poisoning such as this from happening.



I have always been extremely fascinated in almost every topic in biology. I am currently trying to decide between a career in archeology or primatology. I have a dog who is convinced he is a feline (see photo below).

cat and dog

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