Plants & Human Affairs
Cherries.wmf (7140 bytes) Plants & Human Affairs (BIOL106)  -  Stephen G. Saupe, Ph.D.; Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321;;

Botany of Desire:  Potatoes

Potato Biology

  1. Write the complete scientific name for Pollan�s genetically engineered potatoes. (hint: p 192)
  2. To where are potatoes native? Can you locate it on a map?  Where is there center of diversity (Vavilov)?
  3. Describe how a home gardener plants potatoes. 
  4. Compare and contrast organic methods and traditional commercial methods for growing potatoes (i.e., inputs, fertilizer, energy costs, field appearance, pest control).
  5. Which variety of potato is commonly used in fast food French fries?  Why?
  6. Incan potatoes are not uniform in size, texture and color.  Why is this a benefit to Incan farmers?  Why is this a disadvantage to large commercial potato growers?
  7. What is a green manure?

Potato History

  1. Except for the Irish, potatoes were initially rejected by Europeans.  Why?  Cite at least three reasons.
  2. What factors lead the Irish to so readily adopt the potato?
  3. How did the Irish plant potatoes?  Why was it �offensive� to the English?
  4. Pollan suggests that the potato European political power from �sunny southern Europe� to the north.  Explain.
  5. Pollan describes the English �potato debate� that occurred in the 18th century � potatoes as �roots of plenty� vs. �damned root.�  Identify the arguments on both sides.
  6. Pollan argues that symbolically wheat had a higher standing that potatoes in early Christian religions.  Explain.
  7. Irish Potato Famine.
    1. When did it occur?
    2. What organism (common name & scientific name) was responsible?
    3. Why did this organism have such a serious impact on the potato crop?
    4. Describe the political and social setting in Ireland that lead to this tragedy.

Potato Engineering

  1. What does the acronym GMO stand for?
  2. How are NewLeaf potatoes different from traditional potatoes?
  3. Why are NewLeafs registered as pesticides with the EPA?
  4. Describe the basic procedure by which plants like NewLeaf potatoes are genetically engineered.
  5. Is genetic engineering just one more tool in the history of human modification of nature and crops, or is it something new and fundamentally different?

Ethical Issues/Concerns

  1. One concern about GMO�s is that genes might escape into wild populations?  Are any genes likely to escape from NewLeafs into a wild plant?
  2. What is Monsanto�s �Resistance Management Plan?� (p 214)  Why is it necessary?
  3. Do you think farmers should be permitted to collect, store and replant NewLeaf potatoes from year to year?  What is your opinion?
  4. What is �Terminator?�  What is your opinion of this technology?
  5. Should companies like Monsanto be permitted to license genetically engineered crops?
  6. Are Incan farmers entitled to royalties from NewLeaf and other varieties of potatoes since they originally domesticated the potatoes from wild ancestors?
  7. Multiple Choice:  Which of the following is not a genetically-modified crop?
    1. corn engineered to withstand drought
    2. corn engineered to withstand applications of herbicide like RoundUp
    3. golden rice which is bred to have more vitamin A
    4. bananas bred to deliver vaccines
    5. cotton that grows in rainbow colors
    6. tomatoes that withstand frost by inserting genes from a flounder
    7. breeding square tomatoes that better fit in a packing crate
    8. tobacco plants that glow in the dark
    9. all of the above are examples of GMO�s


  1. Pollan states that �my experiments in the garden are unscientific and far from foolproof or conclusive.�  Is it possible to make garden experiments �scientific?�  How?  Describe.
  2. What is neem tree oil?  What is used for?

Risk/Benefit Analysis:

  1. Risk Assessment - identify the risks of planting NewLeaf potatoes
    1. What could go wrong?
    2. How likely is it to occur?
    3. How harmful would it be if it does?
  2. Benefit Assessment
    1. Do NewLeaf potatoes save lives or is it an improvement
    2. Do NewLeaf potatoes improve the quality of life?
    3. Do NewLeaf potatoes solve a problem?
    4. Do NewLeaf potatoes increase efficiency
    5. Who derives a benefit from NewLeaf potatoes?
  3. Information Analysis � evaluate the quality of your information sources
    1. Valid or propaganda?
    2. Peer-reviewed vs. other?
  4. Should NewLeaf potatoes be permitted in the US food stream?
  5. Would you knowingly eat a NewLeaf potato?


  1. Write an essay about the Colorado potato beetle � describe the beetle, its life cycle and its food sources, etc.  One paragraph.
  2. Write an essay addressing one of the ethical issues described above (#3, 4, 5, or 6) or a related issue of your choosing.  Identify both sides of the issue and then provide your opinion. (2-3 paragraphs)
  3. Would you knowingly eat a NewLeaf potato?  Why or why not?



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Last updated:  04/01/2005 � Copyright  by SG Saupe