Blog Archives

Saving the World… Through Science

Guest Blogger! Well, almost.

In my Honors COM 115 class (public speaking), we’ve been writing and presenting speeches about our chosen careers this past week. As one of only 2 “ag” students in my class, naturally I was interested in what the other would have to say. I gave my speech on Agriculture Advocacy (talk about a mouthful); he gave his on Genetic Engineering. It’s difficult to talk about any career for 3+ minutes and make it interesting, but even more so for topics that are technical in nature, or that people just don’t know much about. I must say, I was impressed with my fellow aggie’s speech. Enough so that I was willing to be a dork and ask for a copy of it for my nerd farming blog.

So here it is: for your reading pleasure, a speech on the importance of  a career in genetic engineering by Justin Conover, a Cell and Molecular Biology major at Missouri State University.

Saving the World, One Plant at a Time

“Have you ever wanted to save the world?

When I was younger, I dreamed of being just like my favorite superhero, Superman. I dreamed of flying around the world, lifting large rocks off beautiful women and saving babies from evil, all while living the life of a businessman.

Now, however, I am dreaming of becoming a different kind of superhero, one who saves the world using science.

My name is Justin Conover and I am a freshman honors college student at Missouri State University, planning a career in genetic engineering.

Today I want to explain to you how genetic engineering can save the world, what qualifications it takes to become a genetic engineering research scientist, and tell you some of the benefits being this career has in today’s world.

First, let’s take a look at why the world needs superheroes and how genetic engineering can save the world.

Currently there are 6.7 billion people on Earth, but according to a report in 2010 by Dr. Pamela Ronald, a professor of plant pathology at the University of California at Davis, this number is projected to be close to 9.2 billion by the year 2050.

The question is how will we feed them?

There are already people around the world that do not have food to eat, not because they can’t afford it, but because it is not available to them. And with the traditional agriculture production yield, there is no way that we will be able to produce enough food to feed everyone.

This is where genetic engineering comes in. Genetic engineering is the use of recombinant DNA technology to alter the genetic makeup of an organism which improves its yield and nutritional value, along with added benefits such as pharmaceutical advantages and ecological gains.

Examples of genetically engineered plants include Bt corn, which includes an insecticide from a common bacteria; Round-up ready soybeans, which are resistant to Round-up, a herbicide manufactured by Monsanto; and golden rice, which contains small amounts of vitamin A used to prevent childhood blindness in many third-world countries.

These genetically engineered crops have led farmers to have higher production rates, provided consumers with lower prices of food, and given vitamins to those who otherwise could not get them.

The people that create these genetically engineered crops in the lab are called genetic engineering research scientists. Most genetic engineering research scientists have a doctorate degree in a biological science such as genetics or microbiology, which takes an additional four years after the completion of a bachelor’s degree to obtain. Many of these scientists have both their doctoral degree, or Ph.D., and their doctor of medicine, or M.D.. They spend most of their time working with a small team in a laboratory with strict cleanliness and safety standards. Research scientists often spend 35 to 40 hours a week in the lab, but additional hours are occasionally required for special projects.

Genetic Engineering research scientists also have great benefits. The average research scientist makes 65,000 dollars a year, according to stateuniveristy.com. Some of the benefits they can receive include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans. Plus, they get the satisfaction that what they are doing will make a direct influence on someone’s life and that they may save hundreds of lives by testing and creating genetically engineered crops. But perhaps the greatest benefit of all is knowing that their work will not only affect those close to them and alive today, but it will help people around the world for generations to come.

Just like Superman, being a genetic engineering research scientist requires you to take action and save the world, but instead of sheer strength and the ability to fly, research scientists use the power of science to complete their tasks. Being a research scientist is a very rewarding career, as you will most likely make decisions and discoveries that will affect people around the world. People are in desperate need of saving from poverty, starvation, and malnourishment.

That is why I have decided to become a genetic engineering research scientist and start saving the world through science.”

Justin Conover is a freshman Honors College student at Missouri State University majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology pursuing a career in Genetic Engineering. He is a 2011 graduate from Pattonsburg High School in Pattonsburg, MO. In high school, he was a part of FFA, FBLA, Student Council, National Honor Society, and was the Class of 2011 Secretary. He served as the Pattonsburg FFA Chapter President and as the Area II Treasurer. He competed on multiple contest teams in FFA, including Prepared Public Speaking, Poultry Evaluation, and Farm Business Management.

Farming out loud is more than just what I call “geeking out” with others in your field. It’s having the courage to speak up and tell you story when you know not everyone listening is on your side.

Farm Out Loud!

Ag Day Agvocacy

National Ag Day is coming up March 8. What are you going to do to celebrate?

What is National Ag Day? It’s sponsored by the Agriculture Council of America, a non-profit organization made up of leaders in the ag industry. Here’s what agday.org says about the day:

National Ag Day is a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance provided by agriculture. Every year, producers, agricultural associations, corporations, universities, government agencies and countless others across America join together to recognize the contributions of agriculture.

The site also has a great outline of goals for Ag Day.

Every American should:

  • Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
  • Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
  • Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
  • Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.

There are lots of ways that you can get involved in the celebration. The best way I can think of is to tell your story somewhere where people outside of agriculture can see/hear/read it. You can highlight something about what you do, why it’s important, and why agriculture plays a big role in America. A fellow blogger, Ryan Goodman at agricultureproud.com, is hosting a month’s worth of guest posts from people in different aspects of agriculture about what they do and why they are proud to be a part of agriculture. You can read about how to contribute here.

What should you write about? Well… if you’re a nerd farmer, and I suspect that you are, then you’ve probably done something pretty cool in the last year that you’re proud of and excited about. I’ll give you an example: my dad.

Dad participated in a couple of different row crop competitions during the growing and harvest season for first-crop soybeans this past year. The farm split a soybean field in half between two different varieties of seed from two of the biggest seed company competitors in our area, Asgrow and Pioneer. He chose a field that was unique – they had installed drainage tile (underground tubes that drain off excess water) in a pattern that meant that the whole field got tile every 40 ft. This meant the field could be planted earlier than normal because the ground would be dry enough, and that excess rain wouldn’t become as much of a problem. They also took systematic soil samples so they would know which sections of the field needed which nutrients to support a good soybean crop. Once the field was planted and marked for the different seed varieties, the whole field was treated the same.

They did a few things differently than they had in the past, including their methods for fertilizing and spraying insecticides and fungicides. Since they had the soil samples from each section of the plot, they were able to employ a variable fertilizer application method that made sure every section got what it needed without undue waste. Then they scouted the field for insects and other problems once or twice a week, and if they saw bugs, they sprayed.

In fact, the last time the field needed an insecticide application, the plants were so tall that the sprayer wouldn’t fit over them, so Dad hired a plane to fly over and administer the insecticide. Towards the end of the season, they also applied fungicide to the entire field to keep fungus out and keep the plants healthy.

When it came harvest time, a judge came out to make sure everything was done by the book, and Dad harvested 2 continuous acres of each variety of soybeans for entry into the contests.

In the competition sponsored by Asgrow and Dekalb, called Yield Chasers, a yield of 72.3 bushels/acre was recorded, winning first place in Central Missouri.

In the contest sponsored by Pioneer, called Missouri Soybean Yield Contest, the farm won 2nd place in Central Missouri with 71.48 bu/acre.

Basically, my dad and Brauer Farms are some of the best soybean farmers in the state of Missouri. In fact, as a senior in high school last year (the same crop year as the soybeans that won the trophies above), I was able to help with the soybean crop and submit samples of it to the State Fair FFA Contest in Sedalia. Does the following photo need any other explanation?

This little story has probably reminded you of a story you’d like to tell, whether it be about a contest, a gadget, or just a not-so-typical day on the farm. So tell it!

Farm Out Loud!