Science Project Journal
Results of a Giant Sequoia Gene Spliced to a Lima Bean Plant
Mr. Johannsen, our science teacher, told us if we wanted to earn an A+ this year we needed an unusual science project for our 10th grade biology class. He did not want any more complaints from parents about animal abuse or research papers for or against evolution. He wanted a politically neutral project which showed we understood how we could observe and perhaps influence a change in nature. We could get any help we wanted. We had to keep an exact journal of our projects from concept to finish. All the projects had to be discussed with him and approved before we started. My friend, Vernon has a brother who is going to be a genetic plant scientist. I asked Mr. Johannsen if I could try to cross a lima bean with a sequoia tree and grow a new super plant. Mr. Johannsen laughed and said, “Sure, go ahead and try. Keep good notes and while you are at it, try to find the cure for the common cold or AIDS.” I think he was teasing me about me finding the cure for the common cold or AIDS.
22 Sep 1987: I talked to Vernon and asked him when his brother, Aaron, would be home next. Aaron will come home at Thanksgiving. I asked Vernon if he planned to visit Aaron before then and he said his family would see him next weekend. Vernon’s dad, Dr. Madden, needed to go to St. Louis. I asked Vernon to talk to Aaron about helping me with my science project.
12 Oct: Vernon talked to Aaron. Aaron thought my project was crazy. He will not help me. I told Mr. Johannsen I needed to change my project. He laughed and said not to give up yet because I had not even started. He told me all great scientists face initial opposition.
15 Oct: I talked to my Grandfather Golden about my project. He has bred seeds for his garden for many years and developed some fast growing, giant lima beans. He tried to sell the bean seeds, but the beans taste super nasty. He wants to breed a good bean flavor into them and keep the rapid growth. He said he was sure a sequoia gene will not work in a bean plant, but he gave me some of his best bean seeds to use for my project.
17 Oct: I talked to Vernon again and asked if he would please ask Aaron to try to splice a sequoia gene onto one of my bean seeds. I really don’t know how this works and still need to do the library research on gene splicing. Where can I find a sequoia gene.
18 Oct: Vernon talked to Aaron on the phone and he said if I give him my bean seeds and some sequoia seeds, he will try to splice the genes. He is tired of working with soybeans. He said he will help me even though he thinks my project is completely crazy.
22 Oct: Grandfather Golden found he can get me some sequoia seeds from a friend in California.
25 Nov: Aaron came home for Thanksgiving. I don’t have any sequoia seeds yet, but I gave him five of grandfather’s lima bean seeds.
10 Dec: Grandfather received a Christmas card from his friend in California with six tiny sequoia seeds in it.
22 Dec: Aaron came home for Christmas and I gave him the sequoia seeds. He had already sprouted two of grandfather’s seeds and said the plants had some interesting genetic qualities. I asked if there was any way this could help research to find a cure for the common cold or AIDS. He said I was totally crazy.
15 Jan: I called Aaron and he said the sequoia seeds had not sprouted so he did not know if he could splice a gene from them onto the beans.
17 Jan 1988: I talked to Mr. Johannsen and told him I needed to change my project because it was not working. He said if I was keeping careful notes, even an unsuccessful project would be beneficial because it would show what did not work. He teased me again about my research to try to find the cure for the common cold or AIDS. I told him that was his joke and it never was part of my project. I think he is being mean.
22 Jan: Vernon told me Aaron called and the sequoia seeds sprouted. He had made the splice.
23 Jan: I called Aaron and asked if I could come to see how the splice was made so I could write it into my journal. He said I could.
26 Jan: Grandfather Golden drove me to St. Louis. We went to the new science building at Washington University where Aaron is a graduate assistant. He spliced a sequoia gene onto a lima bean gene. His plant was growing in a little plastic flowerpot. He showed me all his equipment, but it is too complicated to describe in this notebook. He said genetic engineering is a complicated process and is not suitable to be used as a high school science project.
I asked Aaron if there was someone doing research to cure the common cold or AIDS in his laboratory. He introduced me to his friend, Maureen Summers, who is going to be a doctor. She is working on five different AIDS research experiments. I asked her if her projects could help me in any way. She said she did not think so but was open to any suggestion. I said if the lima bean and sequoia gene splice worked, I would grow a super plant. If she could give it the resistance of the AIDS virus, it may be immune to common plant disease and it may help find a cure for the common cold and AIDS. She laughed and said this was not possible but agreed to let me look at her experiments as long as I did not touch anything. She warned me that AIDS research is a deadly matter and not suitable for a high school science project. She would not let me have any AIDS material to use in my project.
27 Jan: I took the genetically spliced bean plant home. Grandfather told me it was much too early to be sprouting and it would die before I could plant it outside. I asked him if I could keep it in his green house until it was safe to plant outside. He agreed as long as I took care of it. When I brought it home my bean plant was 10 cm high and had four leaves. I repotted it into a five-gallon plastic bucket of compost and potting soil. I gave it 1.5 liters (1.6 quarts) of water.
2 Feb: It looks like Spring will come early this year according to the radio. The bean plant is now 22 cm (8.7 inches) high and has 12 leaves. Mr. Johannsen asked me how my AIDS research project was coming today. I told him I was still trying to overcome some obstacles to this aspect of my project. He said the drug abusers will appreciate my efforts the day I find an AIDS cure.
3 Feb: I know Mr. Johannsen doesn’t believe my project will work but just to show him I am determined, I will find out something about the AIDS virus. I asked Vernon if he would go with me to a place where I learned from the newspaper stories there are drug abusers who share needles. I want to see if I can get an AIDS infected needle to use in my project. Vernon said I was absolutely crazy, and he won’t go. He did get me a new needle from his father’s medical supply cabinet to trade for an infected one.
4 Feb: I went to a certain house in the city and asked if I could trade a new needle for one that the people had been sharing for some time. The people were unfriendly but when I explained it was for a science project which may help them, they agreed to trade. This was a scary event and I will never do this again alone. I took the needle to the green house and carefully poked it through the base of the bean plant. My plant is 25 cm (10 inches) high and has 14 leaves.
5 Feb: I think I may have killed the plant. It looks terrible. Grandfather says putting the needle in the base was a bad thing to do and it will probably not be able to recover. He gave it some compost, fish emulsion, and manure tea to help it recover. The plant has shrunk down to 14 cm (5.5 inches) high and now has only 8 brown leaves. It looks almost dead.
6 Feb: The plant is no worse but also no better.
7 Feb: The plant is trying to recover. It has straightened out some and is now 20 cm (8 inches) high, still has its 8 leaves and is turning green again.
8 Feb: It looks like the plant is going to recover. It is back to 25 cm (10 in) high and has started to put out new leaves.
14 Feb: The plant is growing nicely again. It is 38 cm (15 in) high and has 16 leaves.
22 Feb: The plant is 45 cm (18 in) high and has 27 leaves. Grandfather warned me not to try any more needle experiments on the plant because it may not recover again. I think I am smart enough to know that myself.
5 Mar: The plant is 85 cm (333.5in) high and has too many leaves to count. Grandfather says it needs a bigger container because roots are showing all around the edges of the plastic bucket. Mr. Johannsen says he wants us to bring our projects to class next week. He will select the best for the science fair.
12 Mar: Mr. Johannsen looked at my bean plant growing in the five-gallon bucket. He said mine was the worst high school science project he had ever seen. He did not believe my bean plant had a sequoia gene spliced into it and he did not believe me about the drug needle experiment on the plant. He wants me to change my project to a demonstration of light on the bean plant leaves. I am supposed to cut off all the light to the leaves and make a record of how quickly my plant dies. No way am I doing that. I am determined to succeed as originally planned.
1 Apr: The plant is now 223 cm (7’4”)high and Grandfather says it must leave the green house shelf because it is pushing on the roof and too big to keep inside. If it frosts, we will cover it with a tarp and use a heater to keep it alive. I asked my stepfather, Herman, if I can put my bean plant in our yard. He agreed if I plant it in a sunny spot near the back-yard fence and take care of it myself. Grandfather agrees that this is a good plan because our neighbors have a pony and the plant can use the nutrients its roots can take from under the fence. We planted the bean outside at 6:30 PM. The pony wants to eat it through the fence, so we put a piece of plywood between the plant and the fence. The bucket was full of roots and the plant is much harder than a normal bean plant, more like the wood in a tree. The sequoia splice seems to be having some effect. Mr. Johnson says I should have planted a control bean to show the difference between a normal bean and this one, but anyone can tell this is going to be a super big bean plant.
7 Apr: The plant is really growing now. I used our ten-foot-tall ladder to measure the plant. It is over 350 cm (11.5 feet) tall and has spread out along the fence. The pony does not like the taste of the plant and will not eat the leaves. I am just going to measure the base circumference instead of the height from now on because I cannot reach the top without getting a taller ladder. My stepfather says that if the plant gets much bigger, he will cut it down because it is so ugly. It has little
brown and purple spots on all its leaves and it drips sap. I hope he will let me keep it until school is out. Mr. Johannsen is mad at me because I won’t do his no light on the leaves project to kill my plant. I told him it was much too big to take to the science fair now anyway.
14 Apr: The plant is 22 cm (8.6 in) around the base. It looks tremendous. Grandfather says it is the biggest bean plant he has ever seen. The neighbors with the pony are complaining because the plant is growing through the fence into their stable. I asked them to be patient just a few more days because I need to complete my project. They agreed.
21 Apr: The plant is 45 cm (17.7 in) around the base. It has doubled in size in one week. Herman, my stepfather, says he has never seen a plant grow so fast. Vernon brought Aaron over to see it. Aaron snipped off some leaves and took pictures to show his professor. Aaron and Maureen are engaged. She came to see the plant too. I told her about the AIDS needle experiment. She just laughed at me and said I was crazy.
28 Apr: The bean plant was on our local TV News tonight. The base is 105 cm (41.3 in) around. It is about 15 meters high (I had to explain to the TV reporter that is 49 feet because he said no one in America understood meters.) There are hundreds of bean pods on the plant, but they are not yet filled. Mr. Johannsen was also on TV explaining to the reporters how he guided me through all phases of this experiment and how I was his “A+” student. Herman said we need to cut the bean plant down now. He will not wait until the beans are ripe. The plant is much too big to move out of the yard. It has pushed a big dent into the pony’s fence.
29 Apr: Herman got his chain saw out tonight and tried to cut down the bean plant. The saw got stuck half-way in and the chain broke. Herman said he would finish the job tomorrow.
30 Apr: The bean plant healed itself from the chain saw cut overnight. It sent out many new sprouts from the cut scar. Herman could not get the chain saw fixed but said tomorrow it would have to go.
1 May: This may be the final entry in my journal. The bean plant is 125 cm (49 in) around the base and about 20 meters (65 feet) high. Herman has rented a big chain saw and is determined to cut down the plant. I’ve grown so attached to this plant it makes me sort of sad to kill it.
2 May: The rented chain saw broke also. Super strong fibers from the plant tangled up in the chain and stopped it. Herman said it was like cutting into a bundle of wet fiber glass. The bean plant wants to live. A man from the county came and said our neighbors have complained because of the damage to their pony fence. We explained we were trying to remove the plant. My mother baked some cookies for the people with the pony and apologized for this problem. I wonder what will happen if the plant cannot be killed and keeps growing?
4 May: The plant is now 137 cm (54 in) around the base and seems to be about 25 meters (81 feet) high. Herman asked some people from the county to come and cut down the bean plant. Two workers came and hacked off some branches and tried to cut it down. Their chain saws broke, and their axes seemed to just bounce off the base. The lawn and flowers around the bean plant are dying.
5 May: Aaron came with his professor and ten other people to see the plant. They want to get some seeds from it. Herman says it will be gone before the seeds mature. They offer to pay him $1,000 to keep it until the seeds mature. Herman says they would have to pay at least $2,000 and they agree. Herman says he should have asked for $10,000 because they want the seeds so bad.
6 May: My mother explained to the neighbors about getting money to keep the plant and they say they deserve half. Herman got mad and says he will give them nothing. They are going to sue us over the plant. Grandfather suggests I should not get involved anymore because it appears Herman now has taken ownership of the bean plant and it will only cause him trouble.
8 May: The TV News came to our house again because the bean plant roots have pushed out into the street and broken into the utility pipes. This caused a power failure and no water in our neighborhood for two days. The city is going to sue us if we don’t get rid of the plant. Herman called the university and told them they will have to pay a lot more if they want to keep the plant until its seeds mature because it is causing a lot of trouble. They agree to pay $25,000. Herman thinks he should have asked for more because they agreed too quickly.
9 May: Some Japanese scientist came to look at the plant. Herman won’t let them touch it or clip any samples. It is now 257 cm (8.4 feet) around the base and about 40 meters (130 feet) high. Herman has offered to pay the neighbors $10,000 for the problems caused by the plant.
23 May: Mr. Johannsen gave me an A in biology. He asked me about the AIDS needle. I told him what I said before, but he still does not believe me. School is out tomorrow. Grandfather and I are going fishing for a week. He says my project is completely out of hand because Herman is now charging people $20 dollars just come into the yard to examine the plant. Herman told the university it will now cost them $250,000 to harvest the beans. He has hired a security guard company to watch the yard at night to keep other people away.
6 Jun: The plant is enormous. It really grew in hot weather. The sequoia gene and whatever was on that needle has given it superpower. It is now 442 cm (14.5 feet) around the base and about 80 meters (260 feet) high. Unfortunately, it lifted the side of our house with its roots. The beans pods are hard and almost ready to harvest. Five guards are watching the plant every minute now. Mr. Johannsen was on the Geraldo show on TV to talk about the plant. He said it was all his idea. Mother would not let me go on the show or even talk to the reporters. Grandfather says we should leave town because there is going to be trouble, but I want to see what happens next.
7 Jun: Thirteen people from the university came today and picked as many beans as they could. They had a whole pickup truck full. Since chain saws don’t seem to be able to cut down the plant, Herman is going to kill it with poison. He bought several gallons of the most potent kind of herbicide. He had some men come with a big power drill and bore holes into the base of the plant. They then poured the chemical into the holes. It was kind of sad. The TV News wanted to film it but they would not pay Herman the $5,000 he wanted so we videotaped it.
8 Jun: Herbicides cannot kill the super bean! There are all sorts of sprouts coming out of the scars left by the drill holes. The neighbors took away their pony during the night. It was sick.
9 Jun: The sheriff issued us a court order to get rid of the plant in the next three days or pay $10,000 per day in fines for keeping a dangerous public nuisance. Herman said he wanted nothing more than to get rid of the plant, but he could not kill it and asked the county to please help him.
10 Jun: The CNN TV news came to film the county men try to kill the plant. They dug around the base and chopped at the roots. They sent some men up in a tall cherry picker on a truck to cut off branches. A fire truck came and used its tallest ladder to send a man up to cut off the high branches. He cut many branches but not enough to really matter. The bean plant keeps growing.
11 Jun: The CNN TV news reported tonight that the university had discovered that the beans they harvested contained elements of the AIDS virus. Our neighbors want to sue us again because they claim the plant made their pony sick. Herman paid them $50,000 for the sick pony. Our house is beginning to tip over because the roots are pushing up the foundation. The plant is 691 cm (22.7 feet) around the base and over 100 meters ((325 feet) high.
12 Jun: Three U.S. Marshals came today and ordered us to remove the plant because it was a hazard to commercial aircraft. In the meantime, we must put a flashing red light on the top. Herman said he had tried everything he could to remove the plant and failed. He asked the federal government to help. An Army helicopter came and put a big red flashing light with a solar powered battery pack on top of the plant.
13 Jun: Five U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist and six doctors from the public health service came to examine the plant and decide how to kill it.
15 Jun: The National Guard sent about 20 soldiers with all sorts of equipment to kill the plant. They dug holes around the base and put in high explosives. Then they set them off the explosives. It made big clouds of dirt and destroyed what was left of our back lawn. The plant shook but it did not tip over or die.
16 Jun: There are hundreds of new bean shoots coming out of the holes left by the explosives yesterday. The soldiers shot at the plant with flame throwers but other than burning off the shoots and some leaves it did not seem to hurt the plant. In fact, where the plant was burnt, it is now growing faster today than ever. They did burn down the fence and the pony’s stable.
17 Jun: Apparently the bean plant is sucking all the water and nutrients out of the soil in our neighborhood. Everyone’s plants are dying in their yards and their lawns are drying up even though we have had enough rain to keep the ground water level up to normal. Mr. Johannsen has been charged with creating a public nuisance. He now says the bean plant was not his fault and blamed it all on Aaron.
Aaron has gone to Europe on a long vacation. The University says Aaron grew a second bean plant which he also spliced with the sequoia gene the same time as mine and today it is only 20 feet high. They claim the difference between that plant and my bean must have been my AIDS needle experiment that gave my plant super powers.
Aaron says he hopes cold weather will kill the plant because they have not been able to kill any of the beans they sprouted except by grinding them up and putting them in a furnace and burning the pieces to ashes. If they pull out a newly sprouted bean from a seed taken from my plant it refuses to die even if it is dried out or cut up. Once it gets into soil again it continues to grow. It has taken on the unstoppable characteristics of the AIDS virus.
4 Jul: We must move away from here. The plant ruined most of our neighborhood houses. It killed all the plants and trees. There have been so many people from all different agencies working on trying to kill the bean plant we could not live in our house anyway. The last time I was allowed to measure it, the circumference of the base was 723 cm (23.7 feet) and it was at least 120 meters (390 feet) high. Herman says the Army is considering a small thermo-nuclear blast to try to kill the plant. Our neighborhood has been declared a state disaster area. Grandfather, Mom and I are moving to California. Herman will stay here. He says the plant is his and he intends to make more money from it as long as it lives.