Caffeine in everything!

We’ve all tried those chocolate covered espresso beans, and were left spitting out bitter bits of bean. A new product provides that boost without the yuck factor. ‘Sumseeds’ will be coming soon to a truck stop near you. They are in-shell sunflower seeds infused with caffeine, taurine, lysine, and ginseng. They will be the official seed of the Sioux Falls Canaries, reports Discovery News. The company has patents pending for their new way of roasting sunflower seeds and for their special infusion method that lets chemicals penetrate the shell.
Why go through all that work to infuse the caffeine into the sunflower seeds, when they could just transform the sunflower plants with the caffeine synthesis pathway genes? I definitely prefer a transgene to infusion of synthesized compounds. Monsanto has produced tobacco plants that produce caffeine. Their info sheet, posted in early April, states that the caffeine acts as an insecticide. It sounds like a great idea for a BT alternative, especially for crops that aren’t directly eaten (like sugar beets).
Updated on 19 May 2009: I just checked out the Sumseeds website and it turns out the seeds are only available in south Dakota, or can be purchased at their website.

Anastasia Bodnar

Written by Anastasia Bodnar

Anastasia Bodnar serves as the Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. She is a science communicator and multidisciplinary risk analyst with a career in federal service. She has a PhD in plant genetics and sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University.

3 comments

  1. Sounds like a profitable opportunity for an enterprising young genetic engineer…

    But behold – infusing natural seeds with (probably synthetic) chemicals is not at all a controversial thing to do. Augmenting sunflower genes is. What if the seeds get loose (by falling out of the bag, for example) and crossbreed with the native natural sunflowers? What then, you immoral lunatic??! You people are going to kill us all!!11!!1!

  2. What if the gene spreads to native sunflowers? It’s unlikely for a seed to “get loose” because of the way sunflowers keep their seeds all tightly bound up in their seedheads, but if they did – then would it be a bad thing? Maybe then the rare and endangered sunflowers would have a better defense against pests. As for the seeds spreading after you’ve purchased them for a snack – I’m pretty sure that roasting and salting prevents germination.

    PS: Thanks for the warning about your, ahem, comment style. 🙂

  3. “Scarification”… it was a favorite topic of my biology instructor. Even if sunflower seeds have no such mechanism, in serving my role as devil’s advocate here I would still point out that:

    * The seeds could easily be tough enough to withstand some measure of high temperatures before becoming non-viable.

    * I strongly doubt there is rigorous quality control regarding the consistency of roasting and salting by manufacturers, or if there is, that it would be held to very tight tolerances. In other words, some percentage probably makes it through unroasted/unsalted or barely so.

    * “You don’t know _what_ will happen if the modified seeds crossbreed” is the mantra of the GMO detractor. The basic idea is that there are too many variables to predict all the long-term consequences of the changes made.

    Of course, as best as I can tell, a component of natural genetic variation is completely blind, random mutation and recombination; I’m not sure why, but I think GMO detractors somehow think the fact that this process is naturally occurring makes it immune to causing environmental and/or organismal harm. The argument will usually drag in the oft-derided theory of natural selection as part of the defense, but anyway, I don’t pretend to understand it in whole. Oh well, maybe I should stick to my day job and refrain from devil’s advocacy for now.

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