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Why using SexyPlant is a step too far in humanity's constant meddling with nature

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This week it was revealed that scientisits have developed SexyPlant, with the intention of them replacing the pesticides currently used to protect certain crops. However, the announcement has sparked a debate over how far humans should meddle with nature until they turn into pests themselves.

Tractor in field

The idea to fundamentally alter the chemical makeup of their surroundings hadn’t crossed the minds of modern humans for millennia.

They could only dream of having an easier way of travelling, tending fatter livestock and growing healthier crops.

This all changed, says Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘Sapiens’, around 10,000 years ago during the Agricultural Revolution.

Here, modern humans realised that if they mated the fattest hen with the slowest cock, and then those offspring with each other, they could get slow-moving juicy chickens for half the effort.

This was, in effect, creating a new breed of chickens that the world had yet borne witness to and in doing this, modern humans bridged the gap between being Homo Sapiens and intelligent designers. 

Modern humans have since tampered with the biological makeup of the world, and more recently, scientists have devised a new way disrupt the mating of pests in agriculture.

The new device, tastefully named the Sexy Plant, is a genetically modified plant that produces insect sex pheromones.

These pheromones promote mating disruption, and prevent females from finding mates and laying eggs on the crops, which the larvae eventually destroy.  

Modified pheromone plants already exist but guard higher value crops like tomatoes and berries.

Scientists hope that in the future the Sexy Plant will be placed alongside lower-end crops and be more cost-effective. 

There are obvious benefits in using the Sexy Plant to protect crops; higher yields would lead to more profit for farmers, which would lead (theoretically) to cheaper produce for consumers.

There’s also the prospect of more organic crops as pesticides become needless, and as a result useful pests like bees will be better protected and repopulate in the face of their current crisis.

Yet, with these positives, it’s hard to ignore the fact that all but one of them solely contribute to the betterment of humankind - and the repopulation of bees wouldn’t need to be solved if we hadn't cause it in the first place.

It’s as if as a species, we have learnt in earnest to ignore the harm and distress we cause to animals and nature, instead focusing on the advantages we can give to ourselves.

When the time comes to solve the problems that arise from our self-induced ‘advantages’, we create yet more problems, only to be realised further down the line. 

The creation of modern pesticides is a perfect example of this nonchalant approach to improving our devices.

At the time, chemical pesticides seemed a revolutionary step in agriculture.

Synthetic pesticides were introduced from the 1940s and the problem of pests was thought to have been solved.

Yet nearly 80 years later what was thought to have solved the problem of pestilence has caused the greatest known pestilence disaster, Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees have disappeared in their millions from hives across the world.

If continued, this trend could lead to the breaking-down of the food chain, and the potential destruction of the world as we know it.

These two prospective calamities are only drops in an ocean full of human interference, and the continuous meddling of humans in nature must call into question whether we can call ourselves humans or demi-gods; deforestation, animal cloning, Neanderthal brain growth, geoengineering, even killing harmful bacteria all amount to a certain autonomy and self-assured governance over the world we live in.

But, how assured is our right to govern in such a way? Probably not so assured considering we are, after all, only animals sharing the planet with other animals.

Time will only tell whether the Sexy Plant will benefit us more than cause problems in the long run but, with previous expeditions in pestilence, forestry and biological manipulation causing all sorts of unforeseeable difficulties, maybe it’s time for us to pull up our socks and realise that maybe, just maybe, we’ve gone too far this time. 

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