Author: GREGORY BYRNE
Date: December 15, 1986
What do you get when you cross a firefly and a tobacco plant?
Tobacco that glows in the dark?
Yes, word has come from the University of California, San Diego, of a remarkable new discovery that pushes scientific re search into the 21st century and beyond. It's not in the area of particle physics, laser technology or magnetic resonance imaging, but it's bound to be the biggest noise since the Big Bang.
They've made tobacco plants that glow in the dark.
Just think of the enormous commercial potential. Tobacco growers will love it. No need to give the migrant workers the night off: they can pick the stuff in the dark. Inveterate nocturnal smokers would no longer have to grope for the pack about 2 a.m.
It also gives a whole new twist to the “light smoke” the cigarette makers keep promoting. (Ad campaign 1987: Light up a real light smoke: Lampyris Lites!)
Of course, I recognize that the project has a serious purpose. It's a nifty technique for tracking genes and discovering where and when they turn on and off. Potentially, it could help researchers develop plants that are more resistant to disease, thus producing better crops.
But being a nonsmoker, I wish they'd started somewhere else. Corn, for example. These dark winter mornings, I could really use cornflakes that glow in the dark. Or popcorn that's easy to find in dark theaters.
Since the developers have applied for patents on the process, its commercial exploitation will be inevitable. I don't see any way we can keep it out of California cuisine: for-get your tomato, spinach, chili and buckwheat pastas, 'cause here comes fettuccine that makes for a really light meal. And all those “light” chablis from California will quickly become passé when the wine growers start using the process. (How long can it be before Ernest & Julio start pushing “Methode Lampyrisase” sparkling wine or someone promises that Paul Masson will “sell no wine before it shines”?)
But there's better yet on the horizon: the same researchers are crossing fireflies and monkeys by inserting the former's genes into living monkey cells growing in the lab.
What do you get when you cross a firefly and a chimpanzee?
A nasty letter from Jane Goodall.
A plume of flowers on a California buckeye tree (Aesculus californica), captured at night.