The latest Nature has a paper on mapping endangered animal species in a couple of different groups and relating what might be called “extinction threat hotspots” to “biodiversity hotspots.” The paper is getting a lot of media attention, for example here and here. Perhaps not surprisingly, the two types of hotspots do not match up, so a focus solely on protecting biodiversity in the well-known global hotspots is perhaps not going to be as effective as one might wish. No word on whether someone is doing similar work on plants, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the results were to turn out similar. But what about crops? I can think up theoretical arguments why centres of genetic diversity of crops might also be at particular risk from genetic erosion, but as for empirical data the problem is that information on genetic erosion tends to be anecdotal and patchy.
There’s a lot of talk about biofuels these days, but perhaps not much on how growing biofuel crops might actually benefit poor people. So here’s an interesting story from India about how private firms are paying villagers to plant jatropha – traditionally the fruits were collected from the wild, placed on bamboo spikes and burned for light.
According to this article, the number of date palms in Morocco has declined from 15 million at the end of the 19th century to 4.5 million now, mainly due to desertification. That has to have had some effect on genetic diversity, and I’m willing to bet there are data out there on the numbers of varieties at different times in the past.
A number of stories in the past few days have highlighted some novel initiatives to “mainstream” traditional medicine in Africa and China. First there was an article in The Economist on the effort by the Association for African Medicinal Plants Standards to develop a pharmacopoeia, or database of plants used in traditional medicine. By early next year this will include information on about 50 plants and how they are used across Africa. Then today there’s a report from a WHO meeting in Lusaka saying that institutionalizing traditional medicine would improve the care provided by African health systems. And there’s also news that the Chinese government has launched a programme to test the safety of traditional medicines, the latest in a series of projects on traditional medicine in China (see links at bottom of the page).
Here’s a story about breeders’ efforts to perfect the jack-o’-lantern.Â A clue: it’s all in the peduncle. And there’s apparently no “gene-splicing” involved!