It says something about our times that the news reads increasingly like a fable – which is to say, folly so pure it becomes object lesson. The latest example comes from Ames, Iowa, where a biotech start-up by the name of Phytodyne recently bit the dust. The company was going to develop a way to speed up the genetic engineering of crops. Typically the process takes six to eight years; Phytodyne was going to cut that by two.
This would be the “holy grail of the $30 billion crop seed industry,” as the Des Moines Register put it. It could help “turn Iowa’s 23 million acres of cheap corn and soybeans – now used primarily for livestock feed – into a gold mine of food, fiber, fuel and pharmaceuticals, supporters say.” University administrators, the state’s governor, faculty at Iowa State University involved in the project, all were salivating. The state actually committed $5 million in financial aid.