SINGER’s new tune

After my intemperate comment about SINGER the other day, I’m very happy to pass on the news that the new SINGER website is now online at According to the announcement made by Bioversity International, the new SINGER has the following features:

  • GIS maps using Google technology.
  • Users are able to search accessions using Google Maps.
  • Presentation of data in a cumulative format to help users do statistical analysis.
  • Improved presentation of distribution data including across genus and species.
  • Improved navigation and searching capabilities.
  • Free text search.
  • Links to the external databases hosted by partners to provide additional information about accessions. Example: IRRI. Click on the “IRRI Link” under links on this page to view the information.
  • Users are able to view the available pedigree information on the site. Example: IRRI, WARDA, CIP. Please look for the “Pedigree” field under passport information.
  • Users are able to view the availability of an accession before requesting germplasm. The “Availability” field has been added under passport information.
  • Users are able to view if the accession has been placed under long term storage in Svalbard. The “Svalbard” field has been added. Example: WARDA. Please look for the “Safety-duplicate in Svalbard” field under passport information.
  • Users are able to save the search history while they are navigating the site.
  • Users are able to download data in the “xml” and “csv” formats.
  • The shopping cart system has been incorporated – work is still in progress to incorporate the complete shopping cart for an ordering system.

Tasteful breeding

A couple of days ago the Evil Fruit Lord complained — a little bit — about an article in a Ugandan newspaper which extolled the virtues of traditional crops and varieties over new-fangled hybrids. While not doubting the many attractive qualities of landraces and heirloom varieties, he quite rightly pointed out that there’s nothing to stop modern varieties and hybrids tasting just as good:

I get really sick of the tendency to talk about plant breeding as a process which makes crops into finicky, crappy tasting garbage in exchange for yield. You absolutely can create varieties which taste as good (or better) than traditional varieties, produce more, and resist pests. In fact, plant breeding is the only way to get to that.

Now there’s an article by Arthur Allen in Smithsonian magazine which basically says — not very surprisingly, I suppose — that both those things have happened in the tomato:

Flavor … has not been a goal of most breeding programs. While importing traits like disease resistance, smaller locules, firmness and thicker fruit into the tomato genome, breeders undoubtedly removed genes influencing taste. In the past, many leading tomato breeders were indifferent to this fact. Today, things are different. Many farmers, responding to consumer demand, are delving into the tomato’s preindustrial past to find the flavors of yesteryear.

Allen has a good word to say for the wild relatives:

The architect of the modern commercial tomato was Charles Rick, a University of California geneticist. In the early 1940s, Rick, studying the tomato’s 12 chromosomes, made it a model for plant genetics. He also reached back into the fruit’s past, making more than a dozen bioprospecting trips to Latin America to recover living wild relatives. There is scarcely a commercially produced tomato that didn’t benefit from Rick’s discoveries. The gene that makes such tomatoes easily fall off the vine, for instance, came from Solanum cheesmaniae, a species that Rick brought back from the Galapagos Islands. Resistances to worms, wilts and viruses were also found in Rick’s menagerie of wild tomatoes.

And he also plugs genebanks:

…we can take comfort in the tomato’s continuing, explosive diversity: the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a library of 5,000 seed varieties, and heirloom and hybrid seed producers promote thousands more varieties in their catalogs.

Not quite sure where he got that number, as the C.M. Rick Tomato Genetic Resources Center seems to have about 3,500 accessions, but anyway.

Special publication on livestock genetic resources

Livestock Science has a special issue on animal genetic resources. Or it will have, it doesn’t seem to be out yet, although some corrected proofs are available. You can get a flavour of the thing with the introduction. Here are some of the highlights:

Nibbles: Hemp, Galip, Fort Collins, Dwarf cows, Persephone, Atolls