Genebanks galore on the BBC

by Luigi Guarino on February 1, 2015

Never rains but it pours, BBC edition. Hot on the heels of the Food Programme on the conservation of heritage wheats, here comes Gardeners’ Question Time on the cacao genebank at the University of Reading.


Wheat roundup

by Luigi Guarino on February 1, 2015

Great to get an email update from Andy Forbes yesterday on the latest developments at Brockwell Bake. They’ve been busy with their Nordic colleagues of late, as you can read in the latest edition of True Loaf.1 But the big news is they’ll be on the BBC’s Food Programme later today, along with lots of other heritage wheat enthusiasts.

And the wonderful Wheat Gateway has had a couple of tweaks over Christmas:

Wheat *hub *pages such as for Hen Gymro are intended to link up available historical references, morphological descriptions and modern imagery to germplasm data and in due course current cultivation and usage reports for landrace and other heritage lines of specific interest.

*with image*” searches on the database has been added so the various image resources (USDA, INRA, BBA, NordGen) can be targeted by users – inspired to do so by the immaculate image collection of the Nordic Genebank.

Brockwell seem to be cornering the market in wheat genetic resources information systems.

Oh, and since we’re at it, here’s philosopher Julian Baggini on our duty of stewardship towards einkorn.

  1. But what about in like-minded enthusiasts in the US? []


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This edition of the Gazette of India, dated 18 December 2014, communicates a very significant decision for all of us who have an interest in the conservation and use of crop diversity. Here’s the exact language:

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What this means is that genebanks under the management and control of the Government of India now have the formal go-ahead to fully implement the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which India actually ratified a while back, of course. They won’t need to run every request for access to ex situ germplasm by the biodiversity authorities. Facilitated access indeed.


Wild potato diversity halved

by Robert Hijmans on January 29, 2015

ResearchBlogging.orgDavid Spooner and co-workers have written a comprehensive overview of the systematics and genetics of wild and cultivated potato species (Solanum section Petota)1. This nicely illustrated and very accessible paper is essential reading for anyone interested in potato diversity — or indeed the study of plant diversity in general.

A remarkable aspect of wild potato systematics is the way the number of recognized species has fluctuated over time. In 1956, Hawkes recognized 106 species, but in his 1990 treatment of the group this had increased to 232. This will likely be the highest number we’ll see, because it has come down drastically since, and Spooner et al.’s paper puts it at 107 — almost exactly where it was back in 1956. This does not mean that we are back to the same set of taxa though. Many new species were described after 1956, notably by Carlos Ochoa, who named about 25% of the 107 species.2

The graph below shows the number of species over time, based on published compilations, and the name of the authors3 .


It is not easy to determine where a wild potato species begins and where it ends. Many species look very similar, and there is “lack of strong biological isolating mechanisms and the resulting interspecific hybridization and introgression, allopolyploidy, a mixture of sexual and asexual reproduction, and recent species divergence.” A smaller number of species is not necessarily better, but, in the case of wild potatoes, Spooner et al. think it will help us move away from “a taxonomy that is unnatural, unworkable, and perpetuates variant identification” to a system that hopefully enables better conservation and use of these plants.

It also creates a mess, though, because previous analyses based on species level diversity, for example to set collection and conservation priorities, may need to be revised. Spooner et al. update some of the analysis of geographic pattern in wild potato species richness described previously.

The reduction in the number of species is in large part due to new insights from David Spooner’s incessant work on this group, through molecular and morphological studies, and observations during collecting expeditions. His kind of naturalist is a species that is also declining in numbers, or so it seems. That is not a good thing, as there is a lot of work to do.

  1. Spooner, D., Ghislain, M., Simon, R., Jansky, S., & Gavrilenko, T. (2014). Systematics, Diversity, Genetics, and Evolution of Wild and Cultivated Potatoes The Botanical Review, 80 (4), 283-383 DOI: 10.1007/s12229-014-9146-y []
  2. Ed.: Our thanks to Dr Spooner and his co-authors for linking to the obituary of Carlos Ochoa we published on this blog. I think this marks the first time the blog has been referred to in a peer-reviewed paper. []
  3. This is an update of a figure in the now somewhat obsolete Atlas of Wild Potatoes. []


Brainfood: Organic convergence, Wine yeast diversity, Cassava genome, Potato wild relatives, PREDICTS predicts, Seed cryo, Community seedbanks, Maize OPV evolution, Conservation conflict, Biofortification

26 January 2015

Organic and Non-Organic Farming: Is Convergence Possible? Yes, but conversion is more likely. The vintage effect overcomes the terroir effect: a three years survey on the wine yeast biodiversity in Franciacorta and Oltrepò Pavese, two Northern Italian vine-growing areas. Year more important than place as determinant of yeast diversity. Cassava genome from a wild ancestor […]

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Sweet potato expert passes away

23 January 2015

Very sad to hear of the passing a few days ago of Dr Daniel F. Austin. Among other things, he was one of the world’s top experts on the biodiversity of the sweet potato and its wild relatives.

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Tracking down Chinese pigs

22 January 2015

The most obvious impact has been on the pigs themselves. Until the 1980s farms as large as Mr Ouyang’s were unknown: 95% of Chinese pigs came from smallholdings with fewer than five animals. Today just 20% come from these backyard farms, says Mindi Schneider of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. Some […]

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Chefs help conserve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

21 January 2015

I believe we have Nibbled both of these articles, but I think they could stand another few minutes in the limelight. One describes how self-described “farmer-scientist” Dr Brian Ward of Clemson University — with a little help from his friends — is bringing back from near extinction a peanut variety called Carolina Africa Runner: Luckily, […]

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ABS on genetic resources straight from the horse’s mouth

20 January 2015

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), recently gave a very nice, clear answer to a question on the relationship between the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) regimes of the CBD and of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It […]

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European livestock breed conservation assessed

20 January 2015

A further addition to the mass of online information on livestock genetic resources around the world. It’s the final report of the SUBSIBREED project, providing and “Overview and assessment of support measures for endangered livestock breeds” in Europe. It was put together by the European Regional Focal Point for Animal Genetic Resources (ERFP), which is […]

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