Siouxland Observer

Master of Science

Saturday, August 09, 2008


The sign on the wall seemed to quaver under a film of sliding warm water. Eckels felt his eyelids blink over his stare, and the sign burned in this momentary darkness:


Thus the journey begins in Ray Bradbury’s tale “A Sound of Thunder,” a seminal work of fiction about a man who panics in his quest to kill a dinosaur.

On his “safari,” Eckels leaves a well defined path and accidentally kills a butterfly by fleeing a walkway and entering the primal muck. If he had stayed on the walkway, a chartered path leading to an animal about to die a natural death, nothing would have changed. Everything would have remained the same.

Unfortunately, Eckels panicked and raced from the walkway (a path that hovered above the ground) into the jungle, leaving the program behind. Thus on his return everything had changed.

“A Sound of Thunder” first appeared in anthology, a collection of Bradbury’s short stories, and according to one source, gained wider appeal in 1952, when Colliers Magazine published the story.

According to the "Butterfly Effect." a simple act could inflame a system. Over time, the predictable becomes unpredictable. This idea gave rise to the notion of a butterfly flapping its wings in one area of the world and causing a tornado in another area.

This is not a domino effect, the author of the site explains. There is dependency on cause and effect, but whereas a simple linear row of dominoes would cause another, similar event, the butterfly effect amplifies conditions upon other systems. Things change. Unfortunately, as the current storm front approaches few are paying attention.

According to a study by Cornell University, this is what is happening. The step-by-step process of at least one creature is being disrupted.

Monarchs are remarkable creatures, and stories surface occasionally about them. Not only do they migrate on fragile wing to warmer climes, but one person reported finding a monarch on the antenna of his car. Fluttering dead for miles, the simple act of cleaning up the mess (untangling the creature) revealed it had not died at all. Once freed, it flew away to safety.

This reporter has had a similar experience. A car hit a monarch on a major highway, and yet when freed from the car's grill, had enough strength to flex its wings, and ultimately crawl to safety on foliage by the side of the road.

Did it fly to Mexico? The odds are better than being left for car kill. Yet there is trouble ahead. A study at Cornell University, published in 1999, warned of serious danger. Unfortunately, what should be published everyday as a warning is never heard. According the study at, pollen, from genetically engineered corn, weakens the immune system of the monarch in its larval stage.

Laboratory tests confirm monarchs fed milkweed leaves dusted with transformed pollen from a Bt-corn hybrid ate less, grew more slowly and suffered a higher mortality rate. Nearly half of these larvae died, according to the researchers, while the caterpillars fed leaves dusted with regular corn pollen or fed leaves without corn pollen at all survived the study.

The toxin in the transformed pollen (from a genetically modified Bt-corn hybrid) goes into the gut of the caterpillar, according to the study, where it binds to specific sites. Thus, the gut wall changes from a protective layer to an open sieve so that pathogens usually kept within the gut and excreted are released into the insect's body. As a result, the caterpillar quickly sickens and dies.

With traditional political aplomb, John E. Losey, Cornell assistant professor of entomology, and the primary investigator on the study, tells us of potential benefits.

“We need to look at the big picture here,” he said. “Pollen from Bt-corn could represent a serious risk to populations of monarchs and other butterflies, but we can't predict how serious the risk is until we have a lot more data. And we can't forget that Bt-corn and other transgenic crops have a huge potential for reducing pesticide use and increasing yields. This study is just the first step, we need to do more research and then objectively weigh the risks versus the benefits of this new technology."

Stand down, okay? Unfortunately, according to a documentary posted at , called “Genetically Modified Food: Panacea or Poison,” the problem is only growing worse.

“We have a condition,” U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich said in the documentary, “which is really adverse to the public interest where corporations, are in effect, allowed to police their own industries. They are not required to divulge all of their backup research and data to prove their product (is safe)…and the government doesn’t do it either.”

It is beyond the scope of this posting to show all the danger and doubt regarding genetically modified food. The truth is no one really knows what kind of problems genetically modified foods will cause us or the environment. The genetic “drift” of pollen from these plants has already created lawsuits where companies sue farmers “growing” crops with the company’s genetic markers. It’s their crop, they say.

In turn, farmers claim large companies such as Monsanto are polluting their fields with crops they don’t want to grow.

Can it be real? Check the documentary out. Unfortunately, they don't talk a lot about the dying creatures. But the question is simple: is the reason creatures are dying really such a mystery?

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to the folks at at monarchwatch, and Mr. Southerland for the beatiful monarch. Also to John E. Losey, whose study took the stunning photo of creatues in trouble simply for eating, and to the folks at at for the beautiful photo of healthy bees doing bee stuff.