Thai rice on the genebank menu

158826661 3Cb29Defdd M There was a slightly odd article at Seed Magazine a little while back on Thailand’s efforts to conserve almost extinct varieties of rice in its genebank. Odd because while the story is familiar enough in this kind of piece, the details are slightly confused (or confusing). But no matter, that’s probably only of concern to a pedant like me. The rest of you won’t worry about statements like “farmers across Asia once grew more than 100 varieties of rice, but now that number is down to only 20 or 30 of the most productive types”. Instead, you’ll be thrilled to know that the Thai national collection houses nearly 24,000 varieties, 17,000 of which “are in danger of dying out because they are no longer grown by Thai farmers”. That’s great because SINGER, a window on the world of genebank accessions, lists only 5982 samples from Thailand. Maybe one of those is “the fragrant Pin Kaew variety that was named the best rice in the world at a competition in 1966 but which has since disappeared, having lost out to more productive varieties”.

flickr photo by Stef Noble used under a Creative Commons license. Purple Sticky Rice is rare, but not that rare.

Rice stories

The BBC World Service is broadcasting a series of four programmes on the rice cultures of Asia, called Rice Bowl Tales. Starts 28 February, but if you miss it, it seems like the series has already aired on Radio National, and if you follow the link I’ve just given, you should be able to listen online or download audio files.

Etruscan cattle

A new study tries to disentangle the mystery of the origin of the Etruscans by looking at the genetics of the cattle currently found in the area of central Italy which takes its name from that ancient civilization, Tuscany (or is it the other way around?). It turns out that, unlike cattle from other parts of Italy, cattle from the Etruscan lands shows genetic affinities with Anatolian breeds. According to the Italian researchers, the Etruscans came to Italy from Turkey, and they did so by sea. I wonder if it will be possible to recover DNA from the remains of ancient Etruscan cattle…

Chocolate from tree to cup

In honour of Valentine’s Day, albeit a day late, a chocolate-flavoured post today. First, from the great Howstuffworks, How Chocolate Works. Then, ever wondered where you can get the best hot chocolate in New York or Paris? Well, wonder no longer, and check this out. And finally, news that a network has been established to conserve cacao diversity. You can read the Bioversity International press release here.

Rapid agrobiodiversity surveys

This SciDevNet piece led me to this Nature article on the theory and practice of the Rapid Biological Inventory, “a quick, intensive taxonomic expedition designed to identify areas of particular biological, geological and cultural significance before development and exploitation take hold.”

Using satellite images, maps and other data, biologists target promising areas and then work with local scientists and students to walk existing and newly cut trails, recording the species they encounter. (…) In parallel with these are social inventories — surveys of the organisational structure of local communities and how they use the forest. The teams work with indigenous groups, government and local conservation organisations to deepen their understanding of the value of the surveyed areas.

I think the concept was pioneered by Conservation International, under the name Rapid Assessment Program, or RAP, but as far as I can see it hasn’t been applied to agricultural biodiversity, at least not explicitly. Seems to me one could come up with a pretty good “rapid agrodiversity assessment” methodology based on standard crop descriptors combined with traditional knowledge, wrapped up in a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) approach. Maybe someone already has?