GENTECH archive


An orange a day

I'm still musing about the implications of the story I posted about
genetically manipulated oranges. 

<<It was in the fall of 1984 that John Chapman Professor of Biochemistry
at Florida State University, now driving to work behind the wheel of a
used Pontiac Bonneville, first set on a pet project that he hoped
would "dissolve irrational legislation with a solid dose of reason."
Nanofsky knew he would never get his family's car back, but he had
plans to make sure that no one else would be pulled through the gears
of what he considers a Kafka-esque drug enforcement bureaucracy.

"It's quite simple, really," Nanofsky explains, "I wanted to combine
Citrus sinesis with Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol." In layman's terms,
the respected college professor proposed to grow oranges that would
contain THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Fourteen years later,
that project is complete, and Nanofsky has succeeded where his letter
writing campaign of yore failed: he has the undivided attention of the
nation's top drug enforcement agencies, political figures, and media

The turning point in the Nanofsky saga came when the straight-laced
professor posted a message to Internet newsgroups announcing that he
was offering "cannabis-equivalent orange tree seeds" at no cost via
the U.S. mail. Several weeks later, U.S. Justice Department officials
showed up at the mailing address used in the Internet announcement: a
tiny office on the second floor of the Dittmer Laboratory of Chemistry
building on the FSU campus. There they would wait for another 40
minutes before Prof. Nanofsky finished delivering a lecture to
graduate students on his recent research into the "cis-trans
photoisomerization of olefins."

"I knew it was only a matter of time before someone sent me more than
just a self-addressed stamped envelope," Nanofsky quips, "but I was
surprised to see Janet Reno's special assistant at my door." After a
series of closed door discussions, Nanofsky agreed to cease
distribution of the THC-orange seeds until the legal status of the
possibly narcotic plant species is established.

Much to the chagrin of authorities, the effort to regulate Nanofsky's
invention may be too little too late. Several hundred packets
containing 40 to 50 seeds each have already been sent to those who've
requested them, and Nanofsky is not obliged to produce his mailing
records. Under current law, no crime has been committed and it is
unlikely that charges will be brought against the fruit's inventor.

Now it is federal authorities who must confront the nation's unwieldy
body of inconsistent drug laws. According to a source at the Drug
Enforcement Agency, it may be months if not years before all the
issues involved are sorted out, leaving a gaping hole in U.S. drug
policy in the meantime. At the heart of the confusion is the fact that
THC now naturally occurs in a new species of citrus fruit.

As policy analysts and hemp advocates alike have been quick to point
out, the apparent legality (for now) of Nanofsky's "pot orange" may
render debates over the legalization of marijuana moot. In fact,
Florida's top law enforcement officials admit that even if the
cultivation of Nanofsky's orange were to be outlawed, it would be
exceedingly difficult to identify the presence of outlawed fruit among
the state's largest agricultural crop. >>

Apart from the difficulty of official "interference" with the corporate/
orange-growing interests we can see an unexpected change in the official
mystique on the topic of marijuana-as-palliative for the terminally
ill "No, you can't offer an orange (orange juice) to help relieve
suffering, much less prescribe it."
 But the process could work another way, even to the ultimate benefit of
the Monsanto's - think of the possibility of genetically manipulating soy
beans, or tomatoes or rape to take a possibly narcotic form.