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Recommended: "Lessons from apple seeds, potato buds, and nutmeg junkies"

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  • Dianne.Chidester@kctcs.edu
    _________________________________________________________________________ dianne.chidester@kctcs.edu has recommended this article from The Christian Science
    Message 1 of 1 , May 22, 2003
      dianne.chidester@... has recommended this article from
      The Christian Science Monitor's electronic edition.

      Thought y'all might be interested in this article.



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      Headline: Lessons from apple seeds, potato buds, and nutmeg junkies
      Byline: Robert C. Cowen
      Date: 05/22/2003

      In an era of intensive farming and global trade, we take our food
      plants for granted. But if our ancient ancestors had not learned to
      deal with such natural poisons as a cyanide-producing compound in
      cassava, our modern diet would be severely restricted. Unfortunately,
      farmers in some places now neglect ancient wisdom.

      So it is with cassava root, one of the most important food sources in
      tropical countries. It contains linamarin, a well-known cyanogen - a
      compound that produces cyanide when eaten. Rushing to get their crop to
      market, some farmers shortcut the traditional processing that removes
      linamarin. This puts millions of cassava eaters at risk for cyanide

      Enter modern genetic engineering to eliminate the problem at its root.
      Ohio State University in Columbus reports that plant biologists Richard
      Sayre and Dimuth Siritunga have created a cassava variety whose roots
      are essentially cyanogen free. Professor Sayre notes that this is
      particularly important for sub-Saharan Africa, where, he says,
      "improperly processed cassava is a major problem.... If we could
      eliminate the cyanogens in cassava, the plant wouldn't need to be
      processed before it's eaten."

      Cassava is one of many common foods we eat without concern because
      centuries, even millenniums, of trial and error experience and
      cultivation have taught us how to make them wholesome.

      Green potatoes contain toxic alkaloids. People learned long ago to peel
      off green skin and also any sprouts. When it comes to almonds, moderate
      consumption and careful processing are the best practice. Many fruit
      seeds also contain cyanogens. We learned to eat the apple and spit out
      the seeds. Traditional plant breeding has produced a lima bean -
      another cyanogen-bearing seed - with a low poison content. In fact,
      most beans naturally contain digestion-inhibiting chemicals, even
      cyanogens, until cooking renders them wholesome. Various spices also
      contain noxious compounds. Nutmeg is notorious for its hallucinogenic
      myristicin. People usually don't eat enough of any spice to cause
      health problems, except for thrill-seeking nutmeg "junkies."

      Our food plants are descended from wild varieties that evolved defenses
      against plant-munching mammals and insects millions of years ago.
      What's poisonous to us is essential to the plant. Sayre says that in
      cassava, linamarin may be important in the transport of nitrogen from
      the plant's leaves to its roots. He says more research is needed to
      learn how restricting linamarin formation may affect plant yield and to
      develop commercially viable cyanogen-free varieties.

      Cassava, also called manioc, originated in South America, where there
      is archaeological evidence for its use over many centuries. Proper
      processing involves boiling or soaking in water, baking, and drying.

      Cassava spoils quickly when exposed to oxygen in air. Roots sold in
      American and European markets are coated with wax or wrapped in plastic
      to extend shelf life. These roots and tapioca, which is made from
      cassava, generally have been properly processed, Sayre says.

      No one knows how long it took ancient food gathers and farmers to tame
      this nutritious yet dangerous plant. Today, biologists can rewrite a
      plant's genetic code to potentially turn it into a wholesome food

      (c) Copyright 2003 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.

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