“The book showed how ninjas trained by jumping over cannabis plants,” Takayasu says. “Every day they had to leap higher and higher because cannabis grows very quickly. I was so amazed that I told my mom I wanted to grow cannabis when I was older.”
I defy anyone coming across that opening gambit to refrain from reading on. I know I Nibbled it, but the Japan Times article on that country’s history of hemp cultivation and use, which came out a couple of days ago to commemorate 420, is much too good to leave to languish in a sidebar.
Not convinced? How about this?
…the  U.S. decision to prohibit cannabis created panic among Japanese farmers. In an effort to calm their fears, Emperor Hirohito visited Tochigi Prefecture in the months prior to the ban to reassure farmers they would be able to continue to grow in defiance of the new law — a surprisingly subversive statement.
There’s lots more. I have to say, though, that what intrigued me most was this:
As well as references to cannabis plants in ninja training, they also feature in the “Manyoshu” — Japan’s oldest collection of poems — and the Edo Period (1603-1868) book of woodblock prints, “Wakoku Hyakujo.” In haiku poetry, too, key words describing the stages of cannabis cultivation denoted the season when the poem is set.
Researching that bit about haiku led me to what seems to be the mother lode on Japanese hemp culture. Which in turn eventually led me to discover that the Japanese actually have a word for seasonal words, if you see what I mean: kigo. And that there’s a database of kigo, which includes words having to do with hemp, of course. I’ll leave you with a haiku from one of the comments on that indispensable resource; not, I think, an ancient Japanese haiku, but evocative nonetheless, and apposite:
I decide soiling my hands
As we again hear about fighting in and around the headquarters of ICARDA near Aleppo, it is at least some measure of consolation that a further consignment of seeds from the genebank has made it to Svalbard. Our thoughts are with the staff that remain, and that managed, in the face of incredible odds, to make this latest shipment.
We asked Dr Dan Brock to break down his paper on the domestication of Jerusalem Artichoke. Thanks, Dan. Sandy Knapp has also had her say on this. Who needs the full text of papers these days.
Identifying the wild progenitors of crops is one of the key steps we have to take if we are to effectively harness the diversity maintained in the world’s genebanks. This information can and should be used to fuel efforts to increase the productivity and sustainability of modern agriculture. In the case of allopolyploid crop species, which are formed by a combination of interspecific hybridization and genome duplication, this information is also of technical significance. In these systems, a major obstacle in the way of genome-scale surveys of genetic diversity is the fact that variation occurring between the progenitor-derived sets of chromosomes cannot be discerned from variation occurring within each chromosome set. In a recent publication in the journal New Phytologist we highlight a one-step approach that can be used to clarify the origins of previously intractable polyploid complexes, using Jerusalem Artichoke as an example.
The Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) is a culturally and economically important tuber-producing hexaploid whose origin has long fascinated botanists. Despite prolonged interest, the evolutionary history of this species has, until recently, remained a mystery. Different hypotheses have so far proposed the annual sunflower H. annuus as well as numerous other congeners as its likely progenitors. We tested these competing scenarios using the genome skimming approach. One lane of Illumina sequencing generated sufficient data to reconstruct complete plastid genomes, partial mitochondrial genomes, as well as partial 35S and 5S nuclear-encoded ribosomal DNA for the Jerusalem Artichoke and its candidate progenitors. Analyses performed using these data provided unprecedented resolution for this group, which is notoriously difficult to resolve using phylogenetic inference. Our results showed that the Jerusalem Artichoke originated repeatedly via hybridization between the Hairy Sunflower (H. hirsutus), which likely served as the maternal parent, and the Sawtooth Sunflower (H. grosseserratus), which likely served as the paternal parent.
The advent of new sequencing technologies has made ever-increasing portions of the genome available for investigation, with ever-decreasing investment in researcher time and effort. We are therefore in an ideal position: we can use these breakthroughs to resolve the origins of crops like the Jerusalem Artichoke whose unclear ancestry has, until now, hampered evolutionarily-informed germplasm preservation and genome-enabled progress.
Those of you looking for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences big special feature on “The Modern View of Domestication” won’t find it at the URL we previously cited. Twice. You will, however, find it here. I smell another Brainfood coming…
LATER: And here’s the latest press release.