Oh, No, GMO or What Does Synthetic Yeast Have to Do With the Ukrainian Crisis?

By Pat Davis Szymczak, April 9, 2014

The BBC pinged my iPhone again this morning – another alert with breaking news from Ukraine. But when I reviewed the headline feed, it was the Science & Environment section that caught my attention.

Scientists have created the first synthetic chromosome for yeast, the BBC reported. Did you know that yeast and humans share 2,000 genes? I woke up quickly after reading this on the BBC and I Googled just as quickly to find out how many genes there are in the human genome. It seems that human cells have something like 25,000 genes. So if my math is correct, about 10.2 percent of our genes are the same as the genes that make up yeast.

I was offended when I first learned that humans share as much as 99 percent of their genes with chimpanzees. But yeast? Now that’s going a bit too far!

Then I had an “aha” moment. We humans have long assumed that the 1 percent or so of our DNA that is unique to us (and not shared with chimpanzees) has to do with higher brain function, language, creativity, things which differentiate Bonzo the Chimp from Mozart. 

But what if that 1 percent is really yeast? Think about what yeast does. It makes a lot of gas. We use it to make beer – to forget what we’re hearing on television about politics. We use it to make bread because the process of kneading bread relieves stress and we can fantasize that the dough is really somebody’s head. 

When dough rises as those gas bubbles grow, it’s the gas that’s driving the process. To quote an American saying, we’re all “full of hot air” just like bread and beer. It must be the yeast! 

Think of today’s 24/7 television news operations, which all too often report serious and complicated news events as if they were a sequence of plays in a football match. Geopolitics is a chess game that advances national interests and it is a chess game that is played out over years, decades, even centuries. 

Consider today’s trends in oil and gas politics that are writing a new chapter in that millennia-long love-hate relationship between Russia and Ukraine. 

Did you know that only 6 percent of Russian gas supplied to Europe passes through Ukraine today? So what’s the fuss? Russia has little interest in relying on Ukraine as a transit state. After Ukraine shut down the pipeline in 2009 during its last high profile dispute with Russia, the Kremlin moved to protect Russian interests. It built the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany and began to plan a South Stream line to fully bypass Ukraine. Gas transiting Belarus is not a worry since Gazprom owns the pipeline.

Europe meanwhile moved to protect its interests. According to Platts experts who participated in a recent webinar I listened to, the disruptions in 2009 had less to do with the tiff between Ukraine and Russia and more to do with Europe’s lack of investment in its own