Author Topic: EP475: Homegrown Tomatoes  (Read 12650 times)

Devoted135

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Reply #25 on: January 26, 2015, 04:39:35 AM
I have to agree that the science was relying too much on extremely low-probability events to push the story forward. In my mind, it's similar to writing a story that only works if the characters are dumb as rocks. CAN a virus mutate quickly enough to move from grasses to corn to nightshades in a single summer? Well, mayyyybeee... But it's hard for a virus to move into a completely new host and successfully cause infection. Not to mention that the viral vector has to be in close contact with both the existing and the new host plant. Therefore in my mind the story only works if we operate at the very edge of probabilities. I could be less skeptical if several growing seasons were invoked, or even if a particular commonly added gene (that's new school GMO's) was causing a vulnerability. But IIRC, the virus jumped from corn into nightshades within a matter of weeks with no explanation.

So, here's the the thing. As I understand it, it's not a matter how long. It's not like viruses are working hard to figure out how to get into a new species and it takes them a while. We're talking about random mutation and a moment of opportunity. It takes as long as it takes. I mean, it isn't likely, but nobody is looking at AIDS and saying "you're telling me the virus jumped from simians to humans? That's so unlikely. I don't find this crisis compelling at all."

And let's not forget that in real life we have viruses that cross over through many related species. Rabies, for example, can affect almost all mammals.

I'm just not convinced that this story is all that unlikely. Not 100% likely. Probably never going to happen. But then again, most stories are probably never going to happen.

Absolutely, I agree with everything you said. However, it doesn't represent my understanding of the story. I thought the virus in the story could only infect grasses at first, then quickly found a mutation and a vector into corn, and then quickly found another mutation and another vector into nightshades. That's four separate events, and we haven't even addressed the question of how it's spreading over the entire country. To me, this is stretching the bounds of probability too far.

HIV-1 is actually the perfect example for just how difficult it is for a virus to switch hosts successfully; various forms of SIV have been in various apes for centuries, but it only successfully (sustainably) jumped into humans ~100 years ago. It's also worth noting that a rate of 1 mutation per replication cycle, multiplied by uncountable replications per infected person, multiplied by millions of infected people has not yet produced a new method of viral transmission between humans.

Now if I misunderstood the story and the virus started out as a more universal agent like rabies, then a lot of my objections do go out the window. So there's that.



ElectricPaladin

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Reply #26 on: January 26, 2015, 04:48:26 AM
I have to agree that the science was relying too much on extremely low-probability events to push the story forward. In my mind, it's similar to writing a story that only works if the characters are dumb as rocks. CAN a virus mutate quickly enough to move from grasses to corn to nightshades in a single summer? Well, mayyyybeee... But it's hard for a virus to move into a completely new host and successfully cause infection. Not to mention that the viral vector has to be in close contact with both the existing and the new host plant. Therefore in my mind the story only works if we operate at the very edge of probabilities. I could be less skeptical if several growing seasons were invoked, or even if a particular commonly added gene (that's new school GMO's) was causing a vulnerability. But IIRC, the virus jumped from corn into nightshades within a matter of weeks with no explanation.

So, here's the the thing. As I understand it, it's not a matter how long. It's not like viruses are working hard to figure out how to get into a new species and it takes them a while. We're talking about random mutation and a moment of opportunity. It takes as long as it takes. I mean, it isn't likely, but nobody is looking at AIDS and saying "you're telling me the virus jumped from simians to humans? That's so unlikely. I don't find this crisis compelling at all."

And let's not forget that in real life we have viruses that cross over through many related species. Rabies, for example, can affect almost all mammals.

I'm just not convinced that this story is all that unlikely. Not 100% likely. Probably never going to happen. But then again, most stories are probably never going to happen.

Absolutely, I agree with everything you said. However, it doesn't represent my understanding of the story. I thought the virus in the story could only infect grasses at first, then quickly found a mutation and a vector into corn, and then quickly found another mutation and another vector into nightshades. That's four separate events, and we haven't even addressed the question of how it's spreading over the entire country. To me, this is stretching the bounds of probability too far.

HIV-1 is actually the perfect example for just how difficult it is for a virus to switch hosts successfully; various forms of SIV have been in various apes for centuries, but it only successfully (sustainably) jumped into humans ~100 years ago. It's also worth noting that a rate of 1 mutation per replication cycle, multiplied by uncountable replications per infected person, multiplied by millions of infected people has not yet produced a new method of viral transmission between humans.

Now if I misunderstood the story and the virus started out as a more universal agent like rabies, then a lot of my objections do go out the window. So there's that.

Ah, see, I took the perspective that they didn't really know what they were dealing with. I don't believe - I might be remembering incorrectly here - that they explicitly said that the virus was mutating to go from species to species. They were just saying that it was making the jump. That could mean that it's mutating, but it could also mean that they were now observing the virus in those species. Perhaps the virus was already able to infect one or two of those species and during the story it only made one small jump.

Now, I think it's important to note that this virus was explicitly stated to be infecting through a pretty common vector. It was getting into the plants through pollen, and it was destroying their seeds. The fact that all these species use seeds means that they probably share the DNA responsible for growing seeds. Actually - creepily enough - there isn't a lot of unique DNA in the world. Even very different species tend to use the same basic sequences to achieve the same ends. It wouldn't surprise me if all seed-bearing plants turned out to use similar enough DNA that a virus that exploited those cells could leap from species to species.

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Devoted135

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Reply #27 on: January 26, 2015, 05:27:56 AM
I have to agree that the science was relying too much on extremely low-probability events to push the story forward. In my mind, it's similar to writing a story that only works if the characters are dumb as rocks. CAN a virus mutate quickly enough to move from grasses to corn to nightshades in a single summer? Well, mayyyybeee... But it's hard for a virus to move into a completely new host and successfully cause infection. Not to mention that the viral vector has to be in close contact with both the existing and the new host plant. Therefore in my mind the story only works if we operate at the very edge of probabilities. I could be less skeptical if several growing seasons were invoked, or even if a particular commonly added gene (that's new school GMO's) was causing a vulnerability. But IIRC, the virus jumped from corn into nightshades within a matter of weeks with no explanation.

So, here's the the thing. As I understand it, it's not a matter how long. It's not like viruses are working hard to figure out how to get into a new species and it takes them a while. We're talking about random mutation and a moment of opportunity. It takes as long as it takes. I mean, it isn't likely, but nobody is looking at AIDS and saying "you're telling me the virus jumped from simians to humans? That's so unlikely. I don't find this crisis compelling at all."

And let's not forget that in real life we have viruses that cross over through many related species. Rabies, for example, can affect almost all mammals.

I'm just not convinced that this story is all that unlikely. Not 100% likely. Probably never going to happen. But then again, most stories are probably never going to happen.

Absolutely, I agree with everything you said. However, it doesn't represent my understanding of the story. I thought the virus in the story could only infect grasses at first, then quickly found a mutation and a vector into corn, and then quickly found another mutation and another vector into nightshades. That's four separate events, and we haven't even addressed the question of how it's spreading over the entire country. To me, this is stretching the bounds of probability too far.

HIV-1 is actually the perfect example for just how difficult it is for a virus to switch hosts successfully; various forms of SIV have been in various apes for centuries, but it only successfully (sustainably) jumped into humans ~100 years ago. It's also worth noting that a rate of 1 mutation per replication cycle, multiplied by uncountable replications per infected person, multiplied by millions of infected people has not yet produced a new method of viral transmission between humans.

Now if I misunderstood the story and the virus started out as a more universal agent like rabies, then a lot of my objections do go out the window. So there's that.

Ah, see, I took the perspective that they didn't really know what they were dealing with. I don't believe - I might be remembering incorrectly here - that they explicitly said that the virus was mutating to go from species to species. They were just saying that it was making the jump. That could mean that it's mutating, but it could also mean that they were now observing the virus in those species. Perhaps the virus was already able to infect one or two of those species and during the story it only made one small jump.

Now, I think it's important to note that this virus was explicitly stated to be infecting through a pretty common vector. It was getting into the plants through pollen, and it was destroying their seeds. The fact that all these species use seeds means that they probably share the DNA responsible for growing seeds. Actually - creepily enough - there isn't a lot of unique DNA in the world. Even very different species tend to use the same basic sequences to achieve the same ends. It wouldn't surprise me if all seed-bearing plants turned out to use similar enough DNA that a virus that exploited those cells could leap from species to species.

Okay, so if we assume that the virus is already able to infect basically all seed-bearing plants to prevent them from making new seeds (not too much of a stretch, though that poor virus is going to quickly run out of targets and make itself extinct) and also that it's using bees or something for cross-pollination and inter-species spread (this is more of a stretch for me)... then I guess I can see it. :P Now if only that had been in the story! Especially since both parents were explicitly qualified to impart that level of information. I should probably go back and listen to see if it was there and I missed it, but I'm too behind in my podcasts to justify that right now.



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Reply #28 on: January 26, 2015, 02:04:30 PM
I liked the story,  it felt sad on an intimate level. . it made me feel sorrow for this little girl and her parents.



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Reply #29 on: January 26, 2015, 03:56:26 PM

Now if only that had been in the story! Especially since both parents were explicitly qualified to impart that level of information.


Yeah, if the parents were an accountant and an executive, how much would the story have changed?

The vector was waved at, but I don't recall any commitment. Pollen (transmitted by bees) or beetles were made possible, but that is two very different vectors with different (and slow) spread rates.

The American Chestnut is a relevant data point for this conversation. It took decades for the blight to bring the chestnut population to crisis level. Here's a pamphlet on pine beetles that talks about the spread of beetle infections. Great examples of one infecting/infesting species hitting one or a few species. Slowly.

 

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Reply #30 on: January 27, 2015, 10:28:25 PM
I also had the Interstellar knock off feeling.  This was a perfectly fine story, not my favorite but solid enough.

I liked that science was NOT the clear bad guy here.  Most of the "the world is failing" stories usually point to science or mankind as the reason for that impending doom.  I liked that that did not seem to be the case and in fact we were relying on science as the possible savior. 

Its usually GMOs that are the evil, here they were almost a hopeful alternative with the focus on creating disease tolerant foodstuffs.

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hardware

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Reply #31 on: February 06, 2015, 12:43:45 PM
Pretty good story. I did appreciate the telling of this huge global crisis from the domestic perspective, and how it seeps in to everyday life forcing us to adapt and move on. I thought maybe the author stressed a bit too much on how cool he was to be a dad-at-home and having sacrificed his career. Not that he wasn't, but in the end that part of the story distracted from the main strand and didn't really go anywhere.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #32 on: February 09, 2015, 07:13:27 AM
Well, I know one thing that was inaccurate in this podcast:

The reader's name is Lay-Veen, not LE-vin. :-)

(still trying to catch up)



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Reply #33 on: February 09, 2015, 04:05:56 PM
Pretty good story. I did appreciate the telling of this huge global crisis from the domestic perspective, and how it seeps in to everyday life forcing us to adapt and move on. I thought maybe the author stressed a bit too much on how cool he was to be a dad-at-home and having sacrificed his career. Not that he wasn't, but in the end that part of the story distracted from the main strand and didn't really go anywhere.


It seemed to me that he knew he made the right decision but still had to remind himself of that now and then, especially during the events of the story when he might've contributed to helping the world cope with this crisis.



UnfulredJohnson

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Reply #34 on: February 12, 2015, 09:49:15 PM
Meh.

The MC was annoyingly meek. Hi strategy to protect his child from the incoming disaster was to...er... ignore the oncoming disaster. This whole ostrich head in the sand technique just made him a wholly unlikable character. I mean he could have at least tried to tackle the situation in some way, ANY way, I mean he did have phd in plant diseases or something, but he seemed pretty happy to leave it all to his wife.

This story should have been about his wife, and the sacrifices she had to make.



CryptoMe

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Reply #35 on: August 26, 2015, 02:47:31 AM
I thought maybe the author stressed a bit too much on how cool he was to be a dad-at-home and having sacrificed his career. Not that he wasn't, but in the end that part of the story distracted from the main strand and didn't really go anywhere.

Oddly enough, this was the only part of the story that worked for me. Maybe I'm going through some stuff, but the theme of questioning your decisions in life and wondering if you've made the right choices really struck a chord in me. The rest of the story, however, was a solid meh for me. Not only did these people try to protect their kid from reality by burying their heads in the sand, but when reality makes it impossible to keep shielding the kid (when the child's tomatoes are infected) the give up with a whimper and destroy their crops without even making an effort to put up any kind of fight. And the science brought me up short several times in the story. I was genuinely unimpressed.