Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Glowing Plants and Summer Peach Crisp

(Two posts in one day, guys! I'm kicking things into high gear here at Science and Cookies!)

If you follow Kickstarter or science news, you might have heard about the Glowing Plants project. Silicon Valley researchers are attempting to insert genes for bioluminescence into Arabidopsis thaliana, the top model organism in the plant research world (stretch goal: create glowing roses). Here's the video that accompanied the now-funded campaign:

Tom Philpott at Mother Jones ran away with this idea to pen a frightened commentary on the perils of synthetic biology, or synbio:
"And what about the obvious dangers—what if [people] turned away from conjuring cuddly creatures and start creating ones designed to bare their fangs, monsters instead of pets? You don't even need to presume malicious intent to find reason for concern: What if some novel beast designed for cuteness escapes, goes rogue, and turns out to have unintended malign powers?"
I think Philpott's fears are founded in fact but overstated. As with any emerging science, the potential effects of synthetic or genetically modified organisms on human and environmental health must be seriously considered by researchers, government, and industry. Witness, for instance, the intense debate over GMO food, which many (myself included) believe is not ready for release in open agriculture and the marketplace.

But the researchers at BioCurious, the DIY hackerspace behind the glowing plants project, aren't involved in this because they want to create giant, mutant, sinister, bioluminescent trees. They're doing this for the same reason pretty much anyone does science: it's really freaking cool!

You know what else is cool? Peach crisp. Scientists have yet to create luminous plants, but I guarantee this recipe will earn you glowing reviews at your upcoming summer potlucks.

Summer Peach Crisp
Adapted from Apple or Fruit Crisp (Joy of Cooking)

A note on pan size: The original recipe calls for a 2" deep, 2 quart baking dish. I used an 8" wide, 1.5" deep casserole. An 8" or 9" square pan would probably be okay, too.

6-8 peaches (about 2 pounds, though it will really depend on the size of your peaches)
3/4 cup (115 g) flour (I like to use a mix of roughly two parts all-purpose to one part whole wheat pastry flour in much of my baking)
3/4 cup (110 g) packed brown sugar (you could cut this down to 1/2 cup (about 75 g) if you're so inclined)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
A pinch of other baking spices: nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves, cardamom… whatever you like.
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter

1.   Preheat your oven to 375˚F.
2.   Slice the peaches into mid-size chunks (about 1") and place in your chosen baking dish.
3.   Combine the remaining ingredients (except the butter) in a bowl.
4.   Cut the butter into small pieces and use a pastry blender or food processor to blend it into the dry ingredients. Chop it up until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
5.   Evenly distribute the topping over the peaches and bake for about 50 min, or until it smells so dang good you just can't wait anymore!

Further reading:
For a primer on bioluminescence, click here.
For the New York Times article on this project, go here.

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