Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Barley genome breakthrough = better beer? Bullshit.

I'm a scientist. That's how I make my money. I am not anti-science, therefore, but I AM anti-bullshit.

Today I see this blurb from Reuters about some Scottish geneticists that have mapped the barley genome and then expound upon all the benefits that will ... or may ... result. The usual line from folks doing this sort of work: greater food security, more efficient and focused breeding efforts (presumably meaning old-fashioned breeding through plant sex rather than sticking genes into stuff, but that will happen as well), and new breeds that will withstand environmental change. Fair enough. You got a grant to do this, you need more money to keep doing this kind of stuff. But the public doesn't know anything about barley, other than beer. So they say their breakthrough may even improve beer.
"This research will streamline efforts to improve barley production through breeding for improved varieties," said Professor Robbie Waugh, of Scotland's James Hutton Institute, who led the research.
"This could be varieties better able to withstand pests and disease, deal with adverse environmental conditions, or even provide grain better suited for beer and brewing."
Grain better suited for beer and brewing? IT'S BARLEY! Fuck off, Robbie, leave beer out of your mad quest for fame and glawr. Yes there is a lot of worthless, shitty beer in the world, but it's not because the available barley isn't well-suited to beer and brewing. It's because people want cheap crappy beer. Your genetic work will more likely only make crappy beer cheaper or cheap beer crappier. No one who makes decent beer will want to have anything to do with a modified barley. But yes, you'll save starving people everywhere, just like all the GMO corn in the world is saving starving people.

Dr. Waugh has spliced himself with potato genes.
Well, I'll have a look at the Nature paper (Nature 2012; A physical, genetic and functional sequence assembly of the barley genome; The International Barley Genome Sequencing Consortium. doi:10.1038/nature11543) and see how much of this sort of stuff is there, and report back later.

Update: I scanned the article, and in fact there is very little reference to any fluff in it. They note in passing that 20% of all barley is malted for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. There is a pretty cool map:

Track a gives the seven barley chromosomes. Green/grey colour depicts the agreement of anchored fingerprint (FPC) contigs with their chromosome arm assignment based on chromosome-arm-specific shotgun sequence reads (for further details see Supplementary Note 4). For 1H only whole-chromosome sequence assignment was available. Track b, distribution of high-confidence genes along the genetic map; track c, connectors relate gene positions between genetic and the integrated physical map given in track d. Position and distribution of track e class I LTR-retroelements and track f class II DNA transposons are given. Track g, distribution and positioning of sequenced BACs.

1 comment:

  1. "Your genetic work will more likely only make crappy beer cheaper or cheap beer crappier." True!

    Can you "unpack" the update a little bit more for we non-scientists? Are there any interesting implications in what they DID find?