Thanks to Brian Ford-Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Plant Conservation Genetics at the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, for this contribution, hopefully the first of many.

Aside from beet cyst nematode, rhizomania is the most important disease of sugar beet worldwide, having plagued growers since the early 1950s. It can only be combated by growing resistant varieties, and there are two known major genes conferring resistance, one having been discovered by conventional means in the sugar beet crop, and the other in wild sea beet (Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima) populations in northern Europe. In a recent publication, Capistrano-Gossmann et al. (2017) have identified the actual wild beet gene involved (Rz2), using a complex but powerful molecular genetic process, a modified version of mapping-by-sequence together with the generation of a draft genome sequence and fine mapping.1

But let’s leave aside the detailed methodology, including what the gene actually encodes! As far as readers of this blog are concerned, what is the significance of this piece of research? It all started with the existing knowledge that a large population of sea beet in Denmark contained some plants that showed the resistance trait, and in my recollection this population had been studied for many years. But success depended upon sampling plants (189 of them) directly from the in situ population that covered a stretch of at least 10 kilometers of the Danish coast. The magic is that, compared to conventional synthetic breeding populations, this wild population possessed a distinct benefit — many generations of ‘random’ outcrossing resulted in low linkage disequilibrium and high population admixture. This was the key to successfully fine-mapping and genomically pinpointing the causal gene within the beet DNA sequence.

As the authors rightly point out, their research not only demonstrates the value of crop wild relatives, but it also highlights the need for ensuring that populations of these wild relatives are adequately conserved in their natural habitats and are subjected to appropriate and detailed evaluation for useful traits.

There are some important points that arise from this. Firstly, this particular use of a crop wild relative is not direct in the sense of transferring the gene by way of a plant breeding programme, but lies in the molecular isolation of the gene, that could then be subsequently transferred by whatever means, including genetic manipulation of one sort or another. Secondly, ‘evaluation’ of germplasm conserved in situ is something that has not received much attention, to my knowledge. And thirdly, preserving the population’s size and integrity would be important in maintaining its population genetic structure and ‘power’. Allowing it to go through a genetic bottleneck would diminish its value.

It is fortunate that wild sea beet is not categorised by IUCN as being under threat and large outbreeding populations do exist. The genetic potential of one or two other wild beets (Beta patula, for example), with smaller population sizes, is more in question.

  1. Gina G. Capistrano-Gossman et al. Crop wild relative populations of Beta vulgaris allow direct mapping of agronomically important genes. Nature Communications 8:15708. DOI:10.1038/ncomms15708 []


Geoff Hawtin gets OBE

by Luigi Guarino on June 20, 2017

It’s been on social media, and the local papers, for a day or two already, but well worth a shout-out here as well. Dr Geoff Hawtin, lately of ICARDA, Bioversity, the Crop Trust, CIAT, Kew, and much else besides, an indefatigable champion for agricultural biodiversity in general and genebanks in particular in the service of development, was recognized in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List at the weekend.

Well deserved, and indeed long overdue.

Congratulations, Geoff!

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FAO is leading global food composition activities since its beginning and has published several regional food composition tables. Since 1999, FAO is operating its food composition activities through INFOODS, the International Network of Food Data Systems, aiming to improve the quality, availability, reliability and use of food composition data. This fruitful collaboration has led to many instrumental standards, tools, databases and publications in the field of food composition, and more recently also on biodiversity. These public goods assist countries to generate, manage and use food composition data for different purposes. In collaboration with the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA) several documents on biodiversity and nutrition were elaborated, the most important being the Voluntary Guidelines for Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Policies, Programmes and National and Regional Plans of Action on Nutrition. This collaboration laid the foundation to more incorporation of nutrition into agriculture. The new tool ‘Nutrient Productivity Scale’, which combines yield, food composition and human nutrient requirements, may foster the inclusion of nutrition considerations into agriculture. The presentation will guide through all achievements over the last 15 and more years of food composition, biodiversity and part of nutrition-sensitive agriculture, its links within and outside FAO and will provide some food for thoughts for the future of food composition in FAO.

The presentation is online, and is well worth listening to in full.

The bit about the “Nutrient productivity scale” sounds a lot like something we talked about here some time back, and starts about 40 minutes in.

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Squeezing olives

16 June 2017

BTW, if you want to see what that “olive plague” we blogged about a few days ago looks like, here’s a despatch from the front lines by our intrepid photojournalist on the spot, Layla. Incidentally, my attention has coincidentally recently been drawn to the Bioresources For Oliviculture (BeFOre) project (emphasis added): The project aims at […]

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Brainfood: Arracacha diversity, Mediterranean diet, Asian sheep & goats, Alpine flax, Breeding efficiency, Models, Domestication & seed size, Palm uses, CC & production, Insecticide & diversity

11 June 2017

Assessment of genetic relationships between cultivated arracacha (Arracacia xanthorrhiza Bancr.) and its wild close relatives in the area of domestication using microsatellite markers. Lots more variation in the wild, natch. Exploring Relationships between Biodiversity and Dietary Diversity in the Mediterranean Region: Preliminary Insights from a Literature Review. There has been an increase in dietary diversity, […]

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Italian olives still in trouble

9 June 2017

In case you were wondering, the latest on the “olive plague” (Xylella fastidiosa) is that it’s spreading through the so-called containment areas. Oh joy. It’s apparently all the fault of the “authorities,” according to a new audit of the control efforts, reported in Nature. The commission’s audit, published on 31 May, includes a litany of […]

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Some new germplasm databases, at least to me

8 June 2017

Long-time readers may remember a post from 2012 summarizing some media reports of trouble at the Italian national genebank at the National Research Council (CNR), Bari. But maybe things are not as bad as were made out at the time. Or have got better. I’ve just come across what seems to be a fairly new […]

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Getting to grips with rice in Europe

8 June 2017

A little more on that RiceAtlas that I blogged about a couple of days ago. I managed to download the shapefile of rice growing areas, and open it in Google Earth. I then imported the Genesys rice dataset, and zoomed in on Europe. Here’s what those two things together look like. Definitely a few issues. […]

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Chasing melons in Central Asia

7 June 2017

I’ve been meaning to post a link to Eric Hansen’s entertaining “In Search of Ibn Battuta’s Melon” for ages. Published in 2015 in AramcoWorld, its title says it all. Intrigued by a wonderful, and wonderfully expensive, Mirza melon from California, Hansen recalls the following passage from the celebrated Moroccan traveller, and resolves to find the […]

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