Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thorny issues about durians and the gene pool....

I'm middle aged and I am still confused! About all this talk on racial origins I mean! About which race is better than which race that seems to fuel a lot of internet chatter among Malaysians, the young & the old, at home & abroad, the patriotic & the dis-enfranchised and other assorted what have yous. On the eve of 50 years of blessed independence here we are back to the same old same old - trading insults about race just because of an asinine hip hop video posted on youtube purely to offend. I wish that young man great happiness in the country he prefers to Malaysia and wish him well after the infamy stirred up by his video. Possibly there are underlying reasons for his frustrations and making the video was one way of getting back at whoever his enemies are, real or imagined.

But despite me not understanding the language and the obviously "meant to provoke" hip hop rhyming slang stuff, he can really sing the Negara Ku in his full identifiable glory for all to see! Personally, the comments anonymous people stealthily posted were even worse. Being a mixed breed of uncertain geneology myself, an offspring of several generations of by now hard to trace inter-marriage from both of the hotly disputed races, I am languishing in blissful ignorance in my polluted gene pool. Does race matter I wonder? I confess I have a great love for people of whatever race, religion, nationality, or denomination as long as they are good, kind and respect me in return. I guess maybe that is why I stay away from issues about race that often pollute the media to cause confusion as the really thorny issues are too prickly for ordinary citizens like me to handle. Ouch!
Blogging about thorny matters only serves to remind me of durians (source of picture). Now there's a fruit that young video star is unlikely to find growing in the land he currently admires. Unsuitable climates does not stop people from all parts of the world from coming to Malaysia purely to indulge in this thorny and, to some, stinky fruit. Whatever people's opinion of this "King of Fruits", when a scientist from Thailand was recently reported to have bred odourless durians, it brought an unbelievable onslaught of opinions the world over in every imaginable medium of international communication known to man via newspapers, television, radio and, of course, the internet. Funny thing is people did not get as emotional about thornless durians as they do about the smell. Hhmm!!

For those who may not know this, you can't pluck durians from the tree. You need to wait till the fruits are ripe and they fall to the ground all on their own, ready to be picked up. I suppose, if you brave the thorns and overcome the smell, you truly deserve to savour the delights of the custard-like pulp that is so simply divine that many a timid soul has succumbed to the pleasures of the flesh of this fruit that "stinks like hell but tastes like heaven".

The internet has yielded massive information resources dedicated to the aristocratic and exotic durian that my faith in the World Wide Web has been reaffirmed. One particular website Durian on Line (source of picture) is a true labour of love. Equally passionate, in a detailed study on the fruit that some claim to have aphrodisiac properties, is the authoritative and properly academic Bibliographic Review by Michael J Brown. Awesome mind boggling stuff!

What's all this got to do with biotech? Well, I'm not sure really because the scientist, Songpol Songsri, has thus far only developed a hybrid by cross breeding varieties of the durian selected for specific qualities. The article states that he is currently "mapping out durian DNA, and hoping to pinpoint the malodorous gene one day". Phew, huge sigh of relief! So, I have not been consuming any genetically modified durians that I didn't know about then? Durian clones are hybrids really, as I explained in an earlier blog, more like a selective muddying of the durian gene pool in search of superior genes, in a modern-day Mendelian genetics kind of way I suppose. The difference is that it is a fusion of assorted sources of durian plant gametes not by the gene "splice and fuse" biotech methods.

The durian gene-pool has been muddied by time and cross-breeding to come up with a superior combination? You don't say! Much like me I suppose, a hybrid of generations of inter-racial marriages of vague ancestors who sailed to Ptolemy's aptly named Golden Chersonese in sailboats to escape poverty and natural disasters from islands of the Malay archipelago and from mainland China. I am not even sure if the gene pool really matters anymore but I can tell you that from my various sojourns abroad to further my education and for the sake of my career, I can't describe how good it feels each time the plane lands in KLIA and I am back home where I belong. Where the colour of my skin and my faith does not prevent me from truly relishing a good and smelly durian feast along with my Malaysian neighbours and friends.
In conjunction with the 5oth Merdeka celebration, as a flag waving Malaysian I give you the real Negara ku!


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