Sunday, January 18, 2009
Alan "Mushroom" Kapuler: Organic guru of mind, spirit and body; a Homegrown Interview!
Alan "Mushroom" Kapuler: Organic guru of mind, spirit and body; a Homegrown Interview!
By: Alan Reed Bishop/Hip-Gnosis Seed Development/Homegrown Goodness Message Board/Bishop's Homegrown
I am proud to announce that I had the distinct opportunity to conduct an interview with Alan M Kapuler PH.D over this past weekend via E-mail. I would like to take a moment to thank Alan and his family for all of the important work that they have done in the field of organic agriculture, public domain plant breeding, and the arts. They are an absolutely amazing group of people, a rare gem in today's modern world to be sure. What follows is our interview. I would like to thank everyone who posted questions on the Homegrown Goodness message board (where you will find another posting of this interview and many more to come with other public domain breeders)and sent questions via my blog and e-mail. One of the questions that I rarely see asked of "Mushroom" (Alan's other "common" name) are those that pertain to his artwork, I have an intense interest in his beautiful works and thought that one should accompany this article, as such, one of his paintings follows and you can view more of these special works of art at www.fireworksvenue.com/gallery.html (couldn't get the active link to work on this page for some reason so you will have to copy and paste friends)
Enjoy this engaging interview!
So what started you on this long road of organic plant breeding for the public domain?
By age 11,I was interested enough in Mendel's observations and deductions about diploid inheritance that years later folks reminded me of how i would talk with some of my friends about recessive and dominant traits and second generation segregation. Later on in my last year of college, I did a research project on color mutants of the red bread mold, Neurospora crassa. The next year in grad school, I did projects with Escherichia coli, a bacterium and the control elements of the galactosidase gene and with a RNA virus f2, again looking for mutants and genetic selection techniques. During the summer of my 4th year in grad school, I did a breeding experiment with the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. And then later on, working with RNA cancer viruses, again looking for breeding systems, genetic recombination and selection systems, in animal cell tissue culture gave me hands on experience with genetic systems, whether viral, bacterial, animal, fungal, from viral organisms with several to dozens of genes, to bacteria with several thousand, to fungi with 9000 or more, to animals with 15000-22000 and then later on to plants with 20-30,000. I started with orchids at age 8 and volunteered in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden orchid house for many years on saturdays. It has taken me many years to return to them, mostly unsuccessfully. I like plants that are well adapted to the ecosystem I inhabit. But it has taken me many years to accept this. Perhaps because I am a refugee from planetwide ecological disaster.
Yet it was the back to the land movement of the late '60's that turned me into an organic gardener, a seed collector, a partisan of biodiversity, a biologist watching this marvelous beautiful world being destroyed by ignorance in so many ways and more recently a public domain plant breeder.
Could you speak for a moment about the way that your battle with Lymphatic Cancer has affected the work that you do?
If it had killed me, very little of my public domain plant breeding would have been developed.
Having the past 15 years to focus on the need for original plant breeding for organics, for everyone, for the need to recognize that life is common ground for all of us who live here, that we didn't invent the ribosome, or orchids in the trees or the fragrance of a forest. I am in agreement with Vandana Shiva that patenting and ownership of cells, microbes, plants, animals, indeed all of life are forms of biopiracy. The wildtypes, the natural creatures on this planet have liferights in and of themselves. Once we begin changing them genetically, biochemically, transgenically, new organisms arise and the issue of property and ownership arises once again in the sense of invention and novelty. I find it easier to accept patents of cars or computers, stuff that we have originated but not on living organisms.
So lymphoma gave me the courage to sit in for humanity, for my own survival and for the future of a world that once held immense forests, endless flocks of birds, cloudforests wreathed in flowers and oceans with uncountable numbers of species.
It also gave me a chance to try out different medical regimes for putting the swollen lymph nodes back into their normal unenlarged state. After being diagnosed with lymphoma subsequent to a biopsy from an enlarged inguinal node, I began a rather strict macrobiotic diet and 11 months later, the nodes receded to normal. Three years later they returned. Then I got to try the Hoxsey Herbal Tonic and after two months of daily herbal brew, the nodes receded for another three years. The growth of the nodes was stimulated by stress as well as excess oil in my diet. After they had come back once again and new ones arising with an erratic and depressing frequency, I had more than 60 acupuncture treatments and tried a classic oriental remedy for swollen lymph glands with require me to drink freshly prepared turtle soup cooked with specific herbs. For a longtime vegetarian, this was difficult as it was for the 30 turtles. I noticed no effect and the ongoing progression of the disease only became apparent to me when looking in a full length mirror, I saw enlarged lymph glands from my temple, under my arms, down my abdomen and into my legs; perhaps several pounds of tumors. Fortunately, the physician who read my biopsy in 1988 had begun to develop an in vitro assay for reagents that induce apoptosis, genetically programmed cell death, in the cancer cells. By 1995 Robert Nagourney MD had developed the assay and in 1999 used it on my cells to find out which combo of what poisons would put my lymphoma into remission. He treated me with the chosen combo six times along with a monoclonal antibody to my kind of lymphoma at the turn of the millenium. Since then I have no sign of cancer.
Any insights as far as battling back against diseases like these?
-the immense will to live for those one loves, for service to humanity.
-good organic vegetarian food, mostly homegrown.
-a loving family, a devoted partner, courage, resilience.
-yoga, particularly kriya and ashtanga; Patanjali's sutras and the support and inspiration of the divine.
Do you feel there is a natural reason that diseases such as this exist? Any possibility of a future publication dealing with this knowledge?
When one looks into the human genome and the genomes of many organisms, there are many kinds of viral and nucleic acid historical sections. Half of human DNA is viral retrotransposons. Single coding genes are 1-2%. There are many layers and levels of regulation. The evolution of living creatures taken as a collective has many adaptations to survival, survival of life unbroken for billions of years and there are relics of these changes in the genomes, genetic stories of brilliant biochemical innovation, of failures and extinctions, of radical inventions, and of good ideas that have caused problems like cancer, mental illness, psychotic violence and the destruction of the biosphere. So in part, these diseases are part of the selective matrix in which the environment interacts with the genomes. As we increase industrial pollution of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the sounds we hear, the food we eat then the genetic systems are impacted and inspite of their resilience, they are mutated, degraded, altered in ways that sometimes give us growth and advantage but which usually lead to unexpected problems, in our health, in our attitudes, in our behaviors and in our ability to cooperate and work our problems to mutual advancement.
From the descriptions in Carol Deppe's book it appears some of your breeding projects started with a spiritual motivation as much as a scientific one (e.g. Rainbow Inca sweetcorn). To what extent has your breeding work been driven by your background as a molecular biologist and how much by a sense of connection with the earth and seeds? Would you consider your work part of a wider spiritual belief?
I'd rather be part of the immense, incomprehensible, infinite universe than subscribe to some diminished aspect of reality.
The mostly invisible realm of molecular biology is the common ground and framework for life. It is in the seeds that grow our food, that provide fertility, beauty, diversity and room for love and happiness that I feel the connection to so many people and so many generations. Its in the hands, in the nurturing and propagation, in the gratitude for a harvest, for the discovery of a new combination that makes more vigorous plants in difficult ecologies that renews me.
Where did the genetics of "hypertendril" peas come from, and what made you pursue that particular line?
Accidentally, like many good discoveries.
After 7 years in selecting for a purple snap pea, the pods were purple and bitter. So looking for a way around this, I crossed the bitter, purple podded snap with the Parsley Bush Shell Pea and the hypertendril trait emerged. One may understand some aspects of the genetic apparatus but novel combinations happen routinely, picking them out is its own thing.
What types of food crops are you concentrating on these days...?
the foodplants of the Pacific Northwest natives; Wapato, Lomatiums, Brodiaeas, Camassias
What are your thoughts on the future of self sustainable agriculture and plant breeding in the 21'st century.
-we need more public domain breeders
-we will have to deal with transgenics and the biosphere in more enlightened ways
-we need to get rid of the poisons, monocultures, the synthetic fertilizers
-the continuing destruction of the biosphere will make it necessary to reconceive how we feed ourselves and how to support increasingly large human populations
What do you feel is the single most pressing issue in regards to sustainable, organic agriculture and it's ability to feed humankind?
-access to the resources:clean water, fertile soil, the right seeds and cooperative people
What are some of the best plants (edible or non-) to grow for the purpose of making better compost, minding the needs of soil microbes?
-we make compost in the gardening process calling the compost pile the CEO of our garden ie Composting Ecological Organism
-soybeans with lots of rhizobial nodules
-smoothies from green leaves, perhaps fermented, at home fertilizer.
John Jeavons promotes a concept for self-sustainable gardens that one should grow 60% grains/compost crops, 30% high calorie root crops, and 10% vitamin rich vegetables and greens. Would you make adjustments to that, especially if you had a small growing area?
-the categories make problems: compost comes from all crops.
-seems to me that root crops like gobo (edible burdock), daikon, parsnips, celery root are not high calorie but unique each in their own aspect of our nutritional needs. And roots go down, bring minerals up.
-vegetables have free amino acids and combinations of veggies which supply all 21 amino acids needed for protein synthesis reduce the need for mature, whole proteins for they (proteins) are broken down to the free aminos which are the constructive units of enzymes, structural proteins, and essential parts of the cellular metabolic wheels. Seems to me that the violence of the food system, the slaughter of so many creatures for their proteins, needs to be replaced by a better, gentler, more effective for more people system.
So, less grain, more veggies, more fruits, more roots, mushrooms, seaweeds and fermented foods, particularly from soybeans are important parts of sustainable organic gardening.
Some vitamins like A, C and folate are in good suppy in many green leaves but yeasts give us more B's and some like B12 are in Lactobacterial sources.
Is it necessary to import soil microbes to poor soils, or are diverse populations already present, awaiting better conditions?
-both can be true.
-still one can select more effective strains of microbes to liberate phosphate or transport cations, we have rather rudimentary abilities in using and developing microbial strains to improve our agriculture
-we watch the movement of fertility as we plant more soybeans in different places in our 3+ acre garden, which is becoming a milpa, a place that we live out of, that nurtures us, giving us not only food, herbs, medicinals, fiber but good work, time in the weather and the sunshine, wind and rain. We have become discouraged by the importation of amendments to improve our garden. We are actively working with onsite fertility enhancement and there are difficult issues; rodents, difficult weeds, molluscs, how to encourage microbes to help with nitrogen fixation, calcium and iron liberation, mycelial development.
In your many years of experienced plant breeding, have you had any disappointments? If so, what were you working with and what traits were you looking for?
-ideas are the fertilizer
-you have to do many ideas to get a few good ones
-most good ideas don't work out, but they can lead you to pay attention, demand that you be keenly observant, require that you keep track and connect the years and then be willing to realize that you did't know what you were doing but could adapt to the actual happenings and take advantage of the possibilities.
Where is Peace Seeds headed in the future? Can you speak a bit a bit about your daughter Dylana and her partner Mario's new Peace Seedlings venture?
-Mushroom's Blog "30 Years After" gives a synopsis of the early history of Peace Seeds. Hopefully, we will continue to develop Kinship Gardening which promotes the gardening of biodiversity, organizing gardens to reflect the kinship and geneology of the diversity of the plants and by extention, many other interwoven threads of the DNA.
When Dylana was 13 and by some accounts 6, she said that some day she would take over Peace Seeds. She and Mario have been growing seeds intensively for 2 years after gardening many more years than that. It takes 5+ years to get it straight about the breeding systems of each of the taxa, of each of the major groups of foodplants, with hands on experience of how to make layouts optimal to growing many kinds of seeds in the same garden while isolating as many as possible for good seed crops while allowing interbreeding to support vitality, new combinations and adaptation to the continually changing environment. They have developed their own corn lines, new cultivars of marigolds, and are engaging new grexes in the brassicas and zinnias.
They have helped rejuvinate this aging hippie in uncountable ways. I never figured anyone would want to work so hard, work so much and earn so little. Unexpected goodness comes by and makes me glad to have listened to Bob Dylan and turned my focus to the collective wellbeing and peace.
End of first set of answers. 1-17-09 AMK
What got you interested in the study of Amino Acids that got you hooked in breeding for improved nutrition in food plants? Why purple sweet corn or carrots?
As a molecular biologist, one of the great universal discoveries about life is the way proteins are made. By threading messenger RNA's thru ribosomes to specifically code for unique sequences of amino acids that are polymerized into proteins that fold uniquely to make enzymes that mostly catalyze specific biochemical reactions that maintain and develop cells which build organs and organize them into organisms, we have a common system for all living systems and the viruses that depend on them.
So it made sense to look for a common aspect of food and nutrition. It combined my interest in non-violence with that of nutrition. This led me to the amino acids that make proteins and to look into tomatoes, snap beans, salad plants, medicinal herbs, root juices, the petals of flowers and the juices of onions, yacon and other obscure veggies. Dr. Sangamat Gurusiddiah and I collaborated in hundreds of HPLC analyses which are found in 5 papers published in Peace Seeds Resource Journals during the '80's and 90's.
Purple corn, actually high anthocyanin sweet corns came also by accident. I had been collecting sweet corns for years and John Kimmey came by and traded me 7 sweet corns for 7 different colored lines of Hopi starch corn. During the years that I grew and selected them, there were crosses to True Platinum Sweet Corn, some of which gave intensely dark red-wine purple crinkle seeds. I picked them out and to my surprise they were maternally inherited ie, cobs either had all dark red-purple seeds or none of this color at all. So I selected my first lines called variously Martian Purple or Purple Martian or Martian Red. Then with a good line of a high anthocyanin sweet corn, I crossed it to several other popular organic gardening se corns and selected more lines including Martian Jewels, Double Red, Martian Tricolor and Red Miracle.
What are your thoughts on Genetically modified crops? As a scientist do you think there are merits, dangers? Particularly what are your thoughts regarding PHarming?
I've written a few papers about genetic engineering and GMO's like Blowing in the Wind, mostly cautionary because of the inaccurate techniques and overblown claims of the biotechnology industry.
However, walking in a beautiful coniferous forest the other day and considering how few areas on earth give us food, I had to pause at the immense conceptual potential that is implicit in our discoveries about the genomic unity of life. We have been mislead by the misuse of genetics to make RoundUp Ready Soybeans or Bt Corn. Even the Papaya strains resistant to Ringspot disease had fragments of viral genomes and other unforseen changes in the mitochondrial-nuclear genetic balance. These early developments had shallow and mostly economic motivations.
More sophisticated use of our understanding of these genomic discoveries will impact how long we live and how well we age.
It will also impact the local and planetary biosphere in terms of new kinds of weeds, weeds in new ecosystems and unexpected combinations between organisms.
These are difficulties at the beginning of a continuing endeavor by humanity to understand its actual lineages, composition and combinations. We are all mosaics, intricately crazy combinations, in actuality chimaeras many fold more complicated than the Sphinx. As people, so called animals, we are half virus, 2-3% bacteria/archaea, maybe 5% fungal and 7% plant.
Jonathan Weiner in his book Time, Love, Memory reckons that the folks who study fruit flies see in them their intimate link with humanity since all people have 18% of their single copy genes in common with all insects. This book is the story of the life of humanities greatest geneticist, Seymour Benzer. It is profound.
Recently I have been studying as well as growing out some of the bio-diversity that has come from the Oaxaca region of mexico and also that of Peru and have found these regions absolutely astonishing places with an astounding array of bio-diverse food and foliage/flowering plants, I'm wondering if you have done much work with the bio-diversity of this region and also if there is a particularly bio-diverse region that you may describe as your favorite or that you always come back to for further study?
In the 1980's we began collecting Andean crops and later on the National Academy of Science published the Lost Crops of the Incas which gave us more crops, more depth and more encouragement. We have continued exploring the great foodplants developed by the people of the Andes, having most success with yacon, oca, topotopo, achira. Many of the worth-exploring crops like tuberous rooted 4 o'clocks, arracacia-Andean carrots, most cultivars of oca and most cultivars of yacon, ulluco, mashua are not available or difficult to obtain. This seems to be changing. I hope so.
As a ginseng grower myself, I'm wondering if you have done any work with this valuable plant? Any insights into the mystery of this beautiful and potent medicine?
Adaptogenic plants interest me also. I planted some hundreds of ginseng plants in my yard but never gave them enough water during summer. Aralia californica grows well here as do many umbels with big roots and interesting food and medicinal histories.
We consume a narrow range of foods and for many of us this limits our abilities as we age. These plants impact our nervous systems, promote neuronal flexibility.
Just to give folks an inside view into plant breeding could you walk us through your process of breeding something like your double red corn or painted hills sweet corn and that selection process or your sunflowers?
I talked about the corns a little bit earlier.
One year we focused on Helianthus, the sunflower genus of about 50 species.
We grew thousands of sunflower with maybe a 15 species. Among them was Helianthus argophyllus, the silverleaf sunflower, an narrow endemic from Texas.
The year one could see the F1 crosses and several years later there were predominantly H. annuus plants with racemose branches of a dozen 5" flowers on stiff stems. These made great bouquets and led us to examine sunflower plant architecture more carefully. Some other nice observations continue in new work on polypetalous sunflowers crossed with dark red petalled single petal kinds. These Tiger's Eye and Dragon's Fire cultivars have been in our gardens for years.
Now both the argo crosses and the red doubles are combining with the late giants. Inadvertently, some of the sunflowers show a behavior wherein the plants grow for months and then when 8-12' tall have grown 20-40 stout branches that begin flowering in september-october. So the entire plants bursts into bloom. Birds especially appreciate the late fall food.
This one is just for fun, if you could visit any time period and see any piece of history (or future) agriculturally related or scientifically related or not (without interaction) what would it be?
-the coming to local, national and planetary peace
-the upliftment of all of us
-the development of organic gardens everywhere
Is there anybody in the scientific agricultural world that you would like to work with that you haven't yet?
It would be fun to talk with Craig Venter.
How do you feel that internet technology has effected the work that you and other plant breeders are doing, how do you think it will affect the future of the kind of work we do?
It has helped already and can continue to help immensely. The sharing of data, the open discussions, the sharing of seeds, these promote unity which supports education and the scientific process of verification.
I expect you have volumes of notes on your insights of nature and life. Any plans to eventually share them online?
Anything I have written can be put online. There is a collection of 21 writings from 2004-6 that talk about organic seeds, public domain plant breeding, new paradigms in biology, yacon.....and the kinship garden layouts cf PeaceSeeds.com.....and the amino acid papers.
Some folks have been kind enough to post different things, from FoodNotLawns, to SeedAmbassadors, Semences de Kokopelli.
What are some of your favorite plants to eat? What yummy plants should every garden have? Where can we buy those seeds?
Peace Seedlings has a 2009 list. Send SASE to 2385 SE Thompson St., Corvallis OR 97333 for one.
I've tried to grow yacon in a zone 7 environment. At the end of the year, the tubers were virtually non-existent. What areas are there where Yacon just won't do well.
Yacon needs alot of water during september for good sized roots and no early frosts. Try it in a greenhouse as well.
Have you spent time in Hawaii(tropics) cultivating? Any plans?
Several trips to Kauai, once to the Big Island, studying tropical botany all the while; staggering, inspiring, motivating.
Do you feel that your artwork and plant breeding are intertwined and part of the same motivation? Any chance of getting your paintings online somewhere?
Be great to get the paintings on line somewhen.
There are many hundreds of paintings in the home with descriptivars like Dreamscapes, KOOTS (Karma Of Our TimeS), Hyperdimensional Character Analyses, some tarot major arcana, maybe several decks, many family paintings, so its up to sorting, analyzing and organizing, like we have done recently with the seed collection where its first layout was alphabetical in families and now it is conjunct with the APGII=Angiosperm Phylogeny Group II layout.
There is a series of paintings called The Struggle for the Earth. There is another called Exploring the Heart, another The Fabric of Community, at least 50 in The Earth is in Our Hands.
Just to tie everything in together I'm wondering if you could talk about your spiritual beliefs and your family for a moment or two and how they relate to the work that you do?
Now that our 3 daughters are growing into working more closely with Linda and myself, we all engage self-realization.
We rather like having time for one another, for our kids and for the society this engenders. Just like we like organic gardening.
We've wandered thru many spiritual aspects adhering to the unifying parts of them and selecting for techniques and attitudes appropriate for these times.
We continue to work on ourselves, on our faults and weaknesses, blindnesses and frailties becoming more adept at turning adversaries into friends, problems into opportunities and conflicts into conciliation.
And we wish that all towns would promote diverse organic gardens in their parks and conservation in the hearts of the people.
End of second session of responses.
Best to you