Thriller at the Seed Vault

From the description of the just-released German-Norwegian TV series “Die Saat – Tödliche Macht” (English title: The Seed) on ARD (as translated by Google).

Heino Ferch embarks on a dramatic search for missing persons as a police officer on a private foreign mission: in order to find his nephew, an environmental activist played by Jonathan Berlin, on the polar island of Spitsbergen, he pays no attention to his own life. At his side, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, a Norwegian police officer, tries to overcome her own traumas by rescuing the missing man. Neither of them has any idea what unscrupulous powers and actors they will meet. Over six episodes, series creator Christian Jeltsch and his co-author Axel Hellstenius, and director Alexander Dierbach, create a multi-layered arc of suspense that combines a vividly staged thriller plot with a highly topical business crime thriller. The starting and ending point is the “Svalbard Global Seed Vault”, where valuable seeds from all over the world are stored as genetic backup in the event of a disaster. However, the highly secured mine tunnel also hides a secret that poses deadly dangers for the missing activist – and everyone who has anything to do with him.


Eat this maize podcast

Jeremy’s latest podcast is out, and it’s a doozie. Plus it saves me adding it to the next Brainfood, which is coming soon, don’t worry people.

Modern maize has long been a puzzle. Unlike other domesticated grasses, there didn’t seem to be any wild species that looked like the modern cereal and from which farmers could have selected better versions. For a long time, botanists weren’t even sure which continent maize was from. That seemed to be settled with the discovery in lowland Mexico of teosinte, a wild and weedy relative of maize. But there was a problem. A lot of the later genetic work to understand the transformation of teosinte into maize found remnants of different types of teosinte.

Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra and his colleagues have sorted out the story, which is now more complicated, better understood, and offers some hope for future maize breeding. Their paper was published last week in Science.

Happy retirement to USDA’s Dr Peter Bretting

Congratulations to Dr Peter Bretting on his imminent retirement from USDA.

After 32+ years of dedicated public service, Dr. Peter Bretting is retiring from his post as Senior National Program Leader for Plant Germplasm and Genomes with the USDA-ARS Office of National Programs. Dr. Bretting has been with National Programs since 1998. Previous to this post, he served as Research Leader and Coordinator, USDA-ARS, North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS), and USDA-ARS Collaborator-Associate Professor of Agronomy and Botany, Iowa State University. Prior to joining USDA-ARS, he served as Research Program Director, Indiana Crop Improvement Association, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University.

He rides off into the sunset on a high, having masterminded the USDA’s new National Strategic Germplasm and Cultivar Collection Assessment and Utilization Plan, as requested by the 2018 Farm Bill. That directed the USDA to “develop and implement a national strategic germplasm and cultivar collection assessment and utilization plan that takes into consideration the resources and research necessary to address the significant backlog of characterization and maintenance of existing accessions considered to be critical to preserve the viability of, and public access to, germplasm and cultivars.”

Quite the parting gift. And a worthy final touch to an enormous legacy.

There’s a celebration of Dr Bretting’s career and tremendous contributions to plant genetic research and crop genetics, genomics and systematics on Monday, 18 December 2023 at 1:00-3:00 pm EST. Let me know if you’d like the ZOOM link.

Very best wishes for a long and happy retirement, Peter!

Nibbles: USDA germplasm plan, Millet CoP, Seed system resources, Kenyan sorghum Scottish crab apples, Heirloom maize, Yak cheese, Indian mangoes

  1. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a new National Strategic Germplasm and Cultivar Collection Assessment and Utilization Plan. Quite the tour de force. Now to get it funded.
  2. Yes, there’s now a community of practice on millets. Joined!
  3. The Seed System Lab at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences has lots of interesting resources on its new website.
  4. The latest on the Kenyan genebank’s sorghum work.
  5. Why wouldn’t Scotland have a crab apple genebank?
  6. Why Jimmy Red maize is worth saving, despite its faults.
  7. Yak cheese? Yes, please.
  8. And nice pics of Indian mangoes to close.

Reasons to be cheerful

Just noticed I haven’t posted in over three weeks. Sorry about that. But there is a good reason: work.

First there was the Global Crop Diversity Summit in Berlin.

Then there was the 10th Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Rome. The Summit communique was presented to delegates, who welcomed its call for more support to genebanks.

Then there was the Phase 2 meeting of the Vision for Adapted Crops and Soils (VACS) in New York. That vision will arguably depend on the sort of access to genetic diversity that genebanks provide and the Treaty facilitates.

And now of course there is COP28 in Dubai, with its particular focus on the need for transforming agrifood systems.

Which takes us back to the Summit and its call that we need to empower genebanks if that transformation is going to work. And to the Treaty. And indeed to VACS and its focus on less-known crops.

And actually there has been good news already in Dubai bringing all those strands together. Check out the last item on this list of projects that will be supported by Norway.

But don’t worry, normal service will be renewed here soon.