If a Glowing GMO Christmas Tree Falls in the Forest, Does It Have a Smell?


When Da-da was 18, he was sitting in a Biology 101 class with 300 other freshmen in the first seat he could find, about 3/4ths of the way from the front. Luckily, the professor was mic'd.

Said professor was on loan, for one semester, from a prestigious genetic research facility. He began his lecture with a recap of then-recent news about a tribe of distant rainforest natives that had been found by researchers to be... blue. Their skin was entirely blue. The natives themselves were perfectly healthy, the professor intoned, but scientists were diligently working to turn them back to a regular mammalian hominid hue of pinkish brown.

Da-da immediately raised his hand. He was, in fact, the only one to do so, suddenly feeling small in a sea of students. The professor called on him.

Da-da raised his voice: "Why?"

"Exactly!" the professor exclaimed. "If the native specimens are healthy, why modify them?"

Da-da brings this up because he may have unwittingly bought a "cut fresh" GMO Christmas tree this year. (You'll see the connection in a moment.) Da-da bought this tree from a local Christmas tree farm that's been growing their own trees for over 30 years, occasionally augmenting their local stock with imported cut-trees from up north, kept "fresh" in water. Da-da bought one of these imported trees, a turkish fur, because everyone in Da-da's Christmas tree procurement squad agreed that it was, "The Best Tree Ever." It'd also already been cut and Da-da didn't want to kill another tree for auld lang syne. We brought it home under the assumption that it was a "natural" tree. We had no idea it had been genetically modified until we got it home and put it in water.

Put simply: the tree has no scent.

Xmas trees sold today are either naturally selected or genetically modified to grow fast and repel bugs. Real pine trees have a natural defense against bugs: it's called sap. Yes, every time you walk into a pine forest and take a deep breath and revel in that fresh pine scent... AH... you're smelling the tree's natural defense against those chompy bugs. That's right, you're smelling SURVIVAL, baby.

But if the trees are GMO trees, there's no need for copious amounts of redolent sap: no bugs = (virtually) no sap production = no pine-tree smell. Interestingly enough, that unfortunate lack of smell does indeed smell like something: it smells like money.

When edible organisms were first genetically modified, like tomatoes, the initial frankenfoods had no smell. Food scientists were still trying to figure out exactly what they were doing, yet still foisted their experiments on the general public to make some money to pay for the expensive research. GMO manufacturers didn't (and still don't) know what the environmental, social or human health impacts of their GMO products are, nor do those who work for Monsanto or Con-Agra seem to care very much. They just want to make money, which has its own unique scent.

To get back to Da-da's original thread, here's a recent, innocuous McSweeney's post on breeding glowing GMO Christmas trees, bred to glow in various colors by introducing firefly pigment genes for luciferin and luciferase production into Christmas trees.

The question Da-da immediately asks is: WHY?

If the answer is, "because we can," or "because there's money to be made," then Da-da's here to tell you that that answer's not good enough. Couldn't the money used to make all these needless things be used for feeding people, or education, or something a bit more important? What will be the enviro-social HUMAN impact on real human populations and their environs? What happens in the near-future when millions of people put these glowing GMO lightning bug trees out by the curb on December 26th to be they're recycled into the ground and reach the water supply, or into various recycled products that come into contact with foodstuffs, with children? Are they all going to glow, too? And when everyone glows, will it still be special, or will we round up those pesky non-glowers and MAKE THEM GLOW??

No one seems to think about this stuff until it's too late. But then again, so what? There's money to be made.

Ah, that future Holiday 2.0 smell of... no-smell whatsoever.

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