Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Tobacco Ringspot Virus, or Why Science is More Compelling than Fantasy

You've never heard of the tobacco ringspot virus? No? Neither had I until today. But this virus, which causes plants like tobacco and tomatoes to become stunted and withered, just did something both terrifying and amazing: it leaped across a genetic barrier of 1.6 million years to infect honeybees. That's right. Cute, adorable, innocent honeybees, the minute creatures who make it possible for all of us to eat tasty plants. Scientists in China have learned that these bees now act as carriers for the virus, which could have a devastating effect on food crops.

If you think this is a boring, no big deal sort of event, consider the beasts in ridiculous movies like Sharktopus. Now imagine creatures like Sharktopus miniaturizing themselves and flying everywhere, taking the chomp to everything from blueberry bushes to your mother's prize azaleas, and turning leaving a virus behind that will turn more honeybees into shark-octopus hybrids too. When put in those terms it doesn't seem so meaningless and boring, now does it?

Science. Because Sharktopus isn't real, but billions of dollars in dying plants and an endangered food supply is, and it's far more frightening than a lone animal that eats women in bikinis.

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