SANTIAGO — Sex moves the world, they say. I am not referring to the porn industry, but the way in which most living beings reproduce. The color of flowers, bird song, troubadour poetry — it's all sex. The different forms of courting and seduction that permit life itself, plants, birds and humans.
The particular charm of sex is not just that so many people enjoy it, but that it also ensures most of the population is healthy, and those exposed to degenerative diseases fail to threaten the specie's viability.
Sex works like a genetic croupier, shuffling the cards so good mutations (which give us the advantages needed for survival), exceed bad ones. That is because there are millions of genes inside each little chromosome arm, and a kind of miracle occurs every time there is fertilization: Every other sexual cell doubles its chromosome numbers. Four instead of two, which doubles the possibility of cancelling the "bad" genes, if not at the individual level, then at the population level.
Sex is also the reason why the multinational Monsanto will not take over humanity's seeds, as some environmentalist groups have warned in apocalyptic terms. That is, not if reproduction has anything to do with it.
There is a lot of talk about "contamination" of traditional seeds by Monsanto's "Frankenseeds," or of Mexican corn and Andean potato varieties dying out because the wind blew Monsanto seeds onto them.
It is a naive idea of genetics that many good people have embraced without any critical thinking, and a reason why there is no progress in the debate on genetically modified (GM) organisms. Fortunately a recent abitration ruling by the Santiago Trade Chamber in Chile constitutes a first step toward revealing the real nature of GM seeds. The dispute between farmer José Pizarro Montoya and Monsanto's Chilean subsidary clearly shows the hidden weaknesses of the multinational's business model.
According to coverage in the Chilean press, Monsanto contacted Montoya in 2008 about sowing its modified Roundup corn seeds, in the absence of ordinary corn seeds nearby. The first modified harvest was good and ultimately profitable, which encouraged the farmer. But the next year, Montoya alleged, Monsanto sought to experiment with him, with a proposed combination of four rows of female modified seeds to one male row. The result, as expected, was that only a third of Montoya's harvest maintained the altered gene – with disastrous economic consequences. He was ruined, banks called in their loans, and he took Monsanto to court for breach of contract.
The almost perfect ballet that recombined the genes is the result of almost millions of years of evolution. And with plant species, add to this time another 8,000 years since the first farming revolution when humanity learned by trial and error to assist breeding, crossing and re-crossing corn or wheat seeds with sturdier descendants.
History's 'sexual ballet'
I find striking the naivety of those who think that a seed created in Saint Louis, Missouri, could beat nature in this sexual wrestling match. Another blatant case is corn from Oaxaca in south-central Mexico. They denounced its contamination, tests were carried out, and some, not all, were found to have traces of mutated DNA. Samples were taken in different districts and at different times. They did not reappear; why? Simply due to the sexual ballet that occurs at the moment when genes are recombined.
Anti-GM protests in Chile (Mapuexpress Informativo Mapuche)
The gene patented by Monsanto is an isolated anomaly in one of the chromosome's arms, a robot gene that confers one particular trait: tolerance to a herbicide produced by Monsanto itself. It is so "freaky" and unfavored by nature that it struggles to find a partner at the sexual party organized thousands and thousands of years ago. Throw it onto the fields where Monsanto's herbicide does not act as a natural predator, and Pachamama — wise Mother Earth — will absorb it like a drop of water in the desert.
I am not saying all this to exonerate Monsanto of its troubled reputation. Monsanto's business model is nothing but single-crop farming protected by an oversized patenting system. It includes as is known, a contract that forbids one to keep a seed from one season to the next. Why? Because Monsanto is hiding its sexual impotence here — imagine the fearsome Darth Vader going home, and removing his mask to reveal a fragile, elderly little man.