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dental floss cornsilk
Maize with silk engineered to work as dental floss, for pleasurable -- and much-needed -- post-meal flossing.
Mmm, summer corn-on-the-cob: sweet, succulent...and
stubborn between the teeth (must have made even Orville
Redenbacher feel like he was teething again). But, ladies and
gents, maize is also one of our best-studied and most easily
manipulable genetic model organisms -- suggesting a potential
solution to the gum-clogging, tooth rot-promoting issue. The
pesky, stringy silk pollen tubes we're so careful to strip from
maize before eating could, with some genetic tweaking, serve
nicely as floss. We'd just need to engineer their outer cell
layer to develop as an even more fibrous, even more floss-like
tissue (and grasses like maize are great at pumping out such
indigestible polymers...). And hey, we could even make the
cells in question express spearmint oil or some other breath-
||Given that rabbits are so very fond of cornsilk (in my experience, anyway), I have to nix this one. (I am also concerned with the potential for ingesting indigestible threads: you can *really* mess up your intestines that way. Well, cats and dogs and rabbits can, and I assume people too.)
||When did cornsilk become indigestible? I'm not overly fastidious about removing every piece and I've never noticed any bad effects.
||My point: cornsilk is eminently digestible, floss is eminently hazardous.
||"Engineered" = selectively bred?
||Cellulose (aka 'fiber') and similar plant polymers are
indigestible in the sense that your gut can't significantly
burn them for energy -- though some of the bacteria in
your gut can. This is why raw veggies are so good
fiberwise, but also make you fart. That's all I meant
||'Engineered' here = selectively bred from plants infected
with a plant-specific bacterium (e.g. one called
Agrobacter) which itself has been made to carry a newly
designed segment of DNA; this segment of DNA can, when
activated by particular conditions, jump into the genome
of a host cell. If the protein-coding DNA sequence is well-
designed, and jumps into the right part of the maize
genome to be expressed in the right cells at the right
time &c., then we get the trait we want.