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?

Core blimey!

I spent the last few days in Portesham, Dorset (thanks, Lorna and Geoff!), which made it all the more weird to come across this article reprinted in a newspaper in Dubai, where I had to transit for a few hours on the way out there. But it does show that you can still discover (or re-discover) new things even in such a well-researched crop as apples in the UK. Of course, for every upbeat story, there’s a depressing one.