How Do You Like Them Apples?

After reading an Associated press story about genetically-modified rice making its way into our food supply, I idly started wondering how to illustrate the underlying concepts of genetic engineering… So I googled “Bayer CropScience AG,” the German company that managed to introduce an experimental strain of pesticide-resistant rice into the ecosystem, in search of some images that might help me understand their processes (if not their irresponsibility).

I found the above image on a webpage for the Hungarian branch of the company. I can’t understand any of the accompanying text (and Babelfish doesn’t translate Hungarian), but the word-free image tells a fairly comprehensible story: we seem to have a moth with a larval stage that does a bit of damage to the apple’s edibility, that much is clear. Plus, the illustrations have a quality that never fails to charm me, even when I’m witnessing crop damage.

That said, the image suffers from a few, um, narrative issues, shall we say? Basically, if it weren’t for the (barely evident) numbering, it would be impossible to follow the chain of events depicted. The arrows help, but the sequence zig-zags across the picture like Johnny Appleseed drunk on hard cider. It seems that a primary motivation was to create an aesthetic balance between the cut-away apple interior on the left and the obviously damaged exterior view on the right—symmetry also echoed in the matching bark samples at the bottom, the trio of eggs near the top, and the moth presiding over everything. Aesthetically pleasing, but at what cost in terms of clarity?

Speaking of modern farming and apples, how long till we see the end of the apple monoculture as we know it, what with our increasing dependence on pesticides? With any luck, that won’t shift to a dependence on genetic modification&hellp; Perhaps we can rely on genetic diversity instead? (Check out Michael Pollan’s brilliant Botany of Desire if you get a chance.)

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