The unlikely origin of Venere

by Luigi Guarino on March 8, 2013

An Italian walks into a genebank… No, not the beginning of a tasteless joke. But still rather a funny story, so bear with me. The genebank is that of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and the Italian visitor naturally starts discussing Italian rice with the (non-Italian) genebank manager. In particular, he tells him about this strange black rice they have in Italy, great tasting and great for the health, an old traditional Italian variety, dating back to time immemorial. Venere, it is called. Does the IRRI genebank, the largest rice genebank in the world after all, perhaps have it?

So the IRRI genebank manager, who likes that sort of challenge, does a bit of googling, and a bit of trawling of the various databases at his command. And what should he discover, but that the old traditional Italian variety actually traces back to a donation made by IRRI 22 years back. Yes, records agree that in 1991 IRRI sent a sample of a black rice from Indonesia (IRGC 17863, local name “Ketan Gubat”), collected in 1972 in a place called Yogyakarta, to W.X. Ren at the Italian seed company Sardo Piemontese Sementi. Venere is a descendant of Ketan Gubat.

Helping develop a new market in speciality rice has not traditionally been counted among IRRI’s impacts. There’s a first time for everything, I suppose. But there’s a bigger point here. How do you monitor this kind of impact pathway in a systematic way? Continuously chase literature on the use of all the hundreds of accessions a genebank sends out? Unlikely.1 No, what you really need is a curious visitor who knows a particular variety walking into your genebank.

  1. Or is it? Could it be automated, perhaps? []

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