Amish Paradise: The use of GM crops by the Amish

Amish Paradise: The use of GM crops by the Amish

Amish at the forefront of technology!?

Now, Britain may view itself as a progressive country. With universal healthcare, a permissive attitude to stem cell research and a (usually) accepting attitude to foreign cultures, this view on the whole looks fairly correct. However, there is one area where our views are in danger of becoming prehistoric, GM food.

All over the world GM crops are being used. The US plant 42.8 million hectares of the stuff, with Canada and Argentina also producing millions of hectares of GMO crops. And whilst the “but all the other kids in school are doing it” argument isn’t a particularly strong one, the use of GM crops by one particular culture makes our absentia most shameful, the Amish.

When a country that views itself as being modern and forward thinking is being technologically overtaken by the Amish something is definitely wrong! The Amish fled religious persecution in Europe in the 1690’s to the US and have shunned technology and effectively remain living in the 1690’s. They follow a literal interpretation of the Bible and live by a set of unwritten rules of the church, the Ordnung. As each Amish district is a separate church the rules vary. The list is quite extensive but, here are a few that give good idea of the rigidity of their society:

  • Full-length mirrors are forbidden, because they are thought to promote vanity and self-admiration
  • Motorized vehicles are not to be owned or driven. The Amish may request a neighbour to drive them, or may hire a driver and rent a car
  • Women are never to shave any part of their body nor to cut their hair
  • Electricity is not allowed in the home. Electrical energy is allowed in community dairy barns, but only generator power (not grid power)

So, why do they use GM crops?

Traditional harvest of a non-traditional crop

It seems that despite not having electricity, phones in their homes or cars, GM agriculture is not against their religion. In fact, it helps them stick to it. Ironically the loss of productivity they have due to farming entirely by hand is compensated for by the increased yield of the crop. The use of GM also allows them to not use pesticides, which they see advantageous. “I myself like biotechnology,” said Amish farmer Daniel Dienner, “I feel it’s what the farmers will be using in the future.” Dienner is not alone in this view either, as of 2005, 550 Amish farmers in Pennsylvania were growing a genetically enhanced, nicotine-free tobacco plant. They sold this $3,500 per acre compared with $300 to $400 for a regular corn crop.

Nicotine-free tobacco is not the only crop grown. There are also Amish farms growing BT-Corn. This strain of corn contains a gene from Bacillus thuringiensis (a gram positive soil bacteria), Bt Delta Endotoxin. This protein is highly effective at controlling caterpillar larvae. The European Corn Borer larvae (Ostrinia nubilalis) is a big problem for farmers as it eats its way up the stem of the plant damaging it and causing the plant to wilt and the corn to die. It is a particular problem for Amish farmers given their traditional harvesting techniques.

In a very odd interview, Amish farmer Gideon ( for religious reasons he could not have his face on camera) was asked what he thinks about people who say the use of GMO crops is dangerous. He responded, “I would say they are misinformed, they don’t know what they are talking about”. This to the point view shows just how behind we are. Who is to blame is to blame for the country’s hesitance about GMOs is another matter. But, whilst the Daily Mail continues to peddle it’s pseudo-science “Frankenfood” scaremongering and scientists bemoan the public for their lack of understanding, I think it is unlikely the UK’s stance will change.

So, as it sums up the farcical nature of the situation, here is Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic:


Wired  – Welcome to LeBow Country – 2001

Council for Biotechnology Information – Amish Farmers Grow Biotech Tobacco, Potatoes – 2005

BBC 2 – Jimmy’s GM Food Fight – November 2008

FSA  – Consumer views of GM food – 2003

Wikipedia – Ordnung

Agrifood Awareness Australia – World GM Food Report – 2005


Flightless Females Brings Hope For Future

A new technique which renders female mosquitoes flightless has been put forward at a novel control mechanism for Dengue Fever.

Dengue fever, or ‘Bone Crusher disease’ as it has been named, is a tropical disease with 50-100 million reported cases each year. The World Health Organisation claims 40% of the world’s population are now at risk from the disease. It is carried by yellow fever mosquitoes and transmitted through the anti-blood clotting saliva injected during a females bite.

It causes headaches, severe muscle and joint pains as well as shock and haematological effects. There is no treatment currently in use and the disease is managed through treating the symptoms, although there have been some promising developments in recent years.

Along with the problem of treatment there are few effective environmentally friendly control methods for Dengue fever. There is a reliance on pesticides, which can be very harmful to the natural environment.

This new technique works by genetically altering male mosquitoes to possess a gene that will result in any female offspring having disrupted wing muscle development. By doing this, it is hoped that the yellow fever mosquito population will be under control within 6-9 months of implementation.

The discovery was made when it was observed that a region of DNA coding for ‘Mosquito Actin 4’ was found highly concentrated in the indirect flight muscles of the female larvae and of low abundance in males. Gametes were then constructed to have lethal genes fused to the Actin 4 gene, which in adults results in the death of cells where Actin 4 is programmed to be present. The fusion gene was also made to be dominant to the natural form of the gene so that it is successfully inherited by future generations.

In the above image a red fluorescent tag has been attached to the lethal fusion gene and it can be seen in high density in the wing muscle area of females

In the wild, this technology could be implemented by placing the genetically mutated males in fresh water lake. Once hatched the males will fly off and seek a mate. As they will only seek to mate with a female yellow fever it is a very specific treatment. Once mating has occurred and the eggs have matured the female will lay her eggs. They will hatch and the males will fly away. Due to the genetic mutation, the females will be unable to do so and will die resulting in them being unable to transmit Dengue fever.

Whilst this is a promising technique, it remains to be seen whether it will be successfully employed. If it is implemented then the theory could be adapted for other species of mosquito, to target other conditions such as malaria.


Female-specific flightless phenotype for mosquito control; Anthony A. James et al; PNAS; 22/02/2010