Editors Corner: Green is the New Black
Lesley L. Smith
I couldn't believe it; when Professor Rodriguez left the room, Jonah actually made a move right there in the lab, right when I was transferring the plasmid T-DNA into the Gossypium hirsutum.
I jerked away from his roving hands and lips and managed to get goop all over myself. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Oh, come on, Zoey, you know you want it." He smirked. "You know you want me."
I had thought he was kind of cute. Until now. "Could you be any more annoying, dude?"
He leaned back, frowning. "Seriously? You're not interested?" The corners of his eyes and his mouth drooped.
I almost felt sorry for him. But not quite. Our work was important. "No. Go back to work. Did you get rid of all the gossypol in your batch?" Jonah's project was different than mine, but still had huge potential for American farmers; he was trying to make cotton edible.
"I'm not done testing," he mumbled.
"Well, chop, chop. Time's a-wasting." American farmers needed us.
"Geez. Now, who's being annoying?"
"Whatever." We went back to work and I think I successfully transferred the epiphytic characteristics of Tillandsia usneoides, but time would tell. If it worked, cotton farmers would be able to grow cotton without soil. No soil meant virtually no disease or insect problems and a huge harvest per acre. We would be heroes--saviors of U.S. farmers, and probably rich, too. I couldn't help thinking how proud my dad would be if we succeeded. It had just about killed him when he'd had to sell the Texas farm that had been in our family for generations. Since Mom passed away, it was just the two of us and I'd vowed I'd make things right; we'd buy the farm back. This project had the potential to enable us to do that.
The next morning when I went into the lab bright and early, Jonah was there already. Drat him.
He asked, "What happened to your pants?" as I walked in. Trust him to be checking me out rather than doing his work.
I couldn't tell if this was one of his 'made you look' moments or not, but when I looked down, sure enough, my jeans had a big green blotch in the middle of the left thigh.
I shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I spilled something on them." Wait. Had I been wearing them yesterday? "It was probably your fault."
He snickered. "You bring new meaning to the term Mrs. Green Jeans."
"Mrs. who? That's a term? Seriously?" I rolled my eyes.
He just laughed. And then he said Professor Rodriguez had gone to an Agrobacterium Gene Transmission conference and left him in charge. I didn't believe that for a second--the him being in charge part--but Rodriguez going to conference without telling me was only too likely.
At lunch time, I decided to check in with our secretary and see what she knew about Rodriguez and any possible trips.
When I walked in the office, Carmelita was watching America's Next Top Fashion Designer on her computer, as usual. How many times a week was that show on, anyway?
The announcer said, "Forget your mother's little black dress, Designer Eco has sashayed into the final round with his line of hot-pink hemp-based designs." Carmelita grunted. "They look like pink burlap. I say black is the new black, always will be."
When she noticed me, she gasped. "Zoey, what happened to your jeans?"
"It's just a spot. No biggie."
She laughed. "It's a pretty big spot."
"Okay, you're right. It is." I laughed, too, to agree with her. I knew the secretary was the real power behind the throne around here. "So, Professor Rodriguez, what do you hear? What do you know?"
She nodded. "Professor Rodriguez went to a conference. He won't be back until next week."
I narrowed my eyes. "And who did he leave in charge of the lab?"
"I think he said he was going to leave you in charge. Didn't Jonah tell you?"
I growled, but very quietly. Damn that Jonah. I stomped back down to the lab, ready to tear into him.
But when I got down there, he was grinning his goofy grin. "I'm guessing from your expression you checked in with Carmelita and know you are actually in charge."
"Sorry." He grinned again. "I knew my lab dominance would be short-lived."
"But I had to try." He waved his hand at the lab table and the fast-food bag lying there. "Do you forgive me? I bought you lunch, a Veggie Delight--your favorite."
"Well..." I did like the Veggie Delight and I was amazed he'd noticed. "Technically, we aren't supposed to have food in the lab."
"I know. But I have a feeling, my nice, attractive--"
I cleared my throat.
"My nice boss might let the rule slide this once," he said.
"I think you're in luck." It was my turn to grin. "Your nice boss is hungry."
While we were eating, I quizzed Jonah on the results of his gossypol trial. He claimed all his samples of Gossypium hirsutum were totally gossypol-free. I was impressed in spite of myself. We weren't the ones who pioneered the technique, but it was still new enough to be tricky.
After lunch, I noticed I'd spilled some lettuce or something on my pants. At least I thought I did. I kept brushing at it though and it wouldn't come off.
"What's wrong?" Jonah asked.
"I can't get this lettuce off." I leaned down to look at it. Were my pants more green than ever? "Or maybe it's green pepper?"
Jonah took a step towards me. "Do you want me to try?" He lifted his hand.
"Freeze. Your hand is going nowhere near my pants."
He shrugged. "I was just trying to help." Yeah, right.
I worked hard in the lab that day, checking samples. Preliminary tests indicated that the epiphytic properties had been transferred to the Gossypium hirsutum. I was cautiously optimistic. I went home late, dead tired, took a shower and went to bed.
The next morning when I woke up before dawn, my jeans were in a pile on the bathroom floor and they were totally green. And they appeared to be growing leaves.
What the hell?
The t-shirt I'd been wearing yesterday looked much the same.
The Gossypium hirsutum we'd been experimenting with in the lab must have contaminated my clothes. And, actually, the warm humid air of the bathroom and the rapid growth suggested it was epiphytic, too. This new development would seem to indicate that we'd made a breakthrough. Excited, I carefully transferred my outfit to a plastic bag to bring back to the lab for testing and called Jonah.
When I got into the lab, Jonah was already there sporting a green leaf-covered outfit of jeans and a t-shirt. He grinned broadly at me as I walked in.
"I see you already found out our cotton is epiphytic," I said.
"Is that what's making it grow so fast?"
"I think so. We'll need to do tests."
"But that's not the half of it." He leaned over and bit a leaf off the shoulder of his shirt, chewed and swallowed. "I think it's edible; it's gossypol-free."
"This could be huge! Farmers would love this! The patents! We could become the richest people in the world!" I could buy my dad all the farms he wanted. I beamed.
"I know." Jonah grinned and grinned.
We got straight to work taking samples.
I was so engrossed I didn't notice when Carmelita came into the lab. She cleared her throat impatiently.
When I turned to look at her, she had on a green, leafy outfit. Uh oh. "Did you spill something on me, Zoey? What's wrong with my clothes?"
Had our cotton escaped the lab somehow, or was Carmelita just an isolated incident? If it had escaped, we'd be screwed, no one would buy a plant they could get by accident. "You haven't seen anyone else wearing green today, have you?" I asked carefully. I'd come in so early campus had been deserted.
"I was so upset, I didn't notice," she said.
Jonah and I ran to the window and pulled the blinds.
Outside, everyone on campus was wearing something green and leafy and they did not look happy about it.
My heart stopped.
Carmelita came up behind us and gasped.
"Oh, my God," Jonah said. "Professor Rodriguez is going to kill us. No patents for us."
It turned out you could still talk when your dreams were crushed. "And he's not the only one. Maybe I was too hasty. Maybe you were in charge while he was gone, Jonah."
Jonah turned to me. "No way. You wanted to be in charge: you're in charge."
"I don't get it," Carmelita said. "One of you explain what's going on here."
The end of the agricultural cotton industry was going on here, and maybe the end of the entire fashion and clothing industry, not to mention my dream of buying my dad a farm. My eyes filled.
Jonah turned to Carmelita. "Would you believe green is the new black?"
She looked the way I felt, as if she was about to cry. "What?"
Jonah bit another leaf off his shirt.
As I watched him chew, my brain finally started working again. "Maybe there's a silver lining, here." I thought of all the generations of Texan farmers like my folks and my grandparents trying to eke a living out of the earth, and of farmers all over the world.
What if none of them, what if no one, ever had to be hungry again?
"You mean a green lining," Jonah said.
"Yeah. Some things are more important than making money." I smiled. "I think we may have just ended world hunger."
Dad would be proud.