Canaries in the genetic coal mine

Specialism in science being what it is, it’s understandably unusual to see papers which combine combine analysis of genetic diversity in humans over time with that of crops, or indeed livestock. It’s less understandable why it should also be unusual in science journalism, and examples should be celebrated. So hats off to Warren Cornwall for his very readable synthesis in Science of the history of human and crop genetic diversity in the Canaries over the past two thousand years. Well worth a read.


    The genomic history of the indigenous people of the Canary Islands.
    The demography of the Canary Islands from a genetic perspective.
    Demographic history of Canary Islands male gene-pool: replacement of native lineages by European.
    An Evolutionary Approach to the History of Barley (Hordeum vulgare) Cultivation in the Canary Islands.
    Farmer fidelity in the Canary Islands revealed by ancient DNA from prehistoric seeds.
    Agriculture and crop dispersal in the western periphery of the Old World: the Amazigh/Berber settling of the Canary Islands (ca. 2nd–15th centuries CE).

Brainfood: CGIAR impacts, Alternative ag, Landscape simplicity, Biocultural diversity, PPP, Bioversity & food security, Landrace legislation, Coffee ABS, Useful plants

Maroon rice destined for Svalbard

Really attentive long-time readers may remember us posting a video of an interview with Edith Adjako, a Surinamese woman of Maroon descent, recorded by ethnobotanist Dr Tinde van Andel. Dr van Andel and her colleagues have been studying Maroon agriculture and how it relates to African practices. Recall that the Maroons are the descendants of enslaved people who escaped captivity during colonial times and established communities in the interior of places like Suriname which survive to this day.

Well, as it happens, my colleagues and I recently checked out a project the Crop Trust is supporting in Suriname that involves the regeneration and safety duplication in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault of Maroon rice varieties. The project is coordinated by ADRON, the national rice research institute, but is a collaboration with Maroon communities, as well as with Dr van Andel’s institute. It has now been written up in The Guardian, no less.

Here you see farmers from the Saramaccan community visiting a demonstration plot of some 75 local rice varieties one of them established under the project.

And here’s a selection of recent papers on Maroon agriculture:

  1. The ‘Botanical Gardens of the Dispossessed’ revisited: richness and significance of Old World crops grown by Suriname Maroons. “Spending time in the capital during childbirth or illness resulted in the loss of typical Maroon crops (e.g., Bambara groundnut), as seeds lost viability during the farmer’s absence. Motivation to grow specific crops and cultivars varied from tradition, food preference, seasonal spreading, rituals and traditional medicine.”
  2. The role of crop diversity in escape agriculture; rice cultivation among Maroon communities in Suriname. “Plots were farmed primarily by women and contained a broad range of different rice varieties. Naming and origin stories show a clear reference to the escape from plantations and the leading role of women in farming and food security. In some fields, a small patch was reserved for a rice type with very dark grains, used mostly for ritual purposes. Results also show adoption of more recently introduced rice varieties.”
  3. Vernacular Names of Traditional Rice Varieties Reveal the Unique History of Maroons in Suriname and French Guiana. “Maroon rice names are truly unique as they reflect the varieties that were available, the history of plantations and marronnage, climate aspects that influenced the selection of farmers, the many separate groups of runaways joining the Maroons, the adaptation to the Amazonian ecosystem, and their contacts with outsiders.”
  4. Maroon Women in Suriname and French Guiana: Rice, Slavery, Memory. “We combined information from ethnobotanical surveys, Maroon oral history, archival documents and published accounts to show how Maroon farmers today safeguard their agricultural diversity and cultural heritage by planting rice varieties that still carry the names of their female ancestors. We focus on a selected number of rice varieties named after the Saamaka ancestors Seei, Yaya and Paanza, Tjowa of the Matawai, Sapali, Ana and Baapa of the Ndyuka, and describe the stories attached to them.”

Nibbles: Cheese microbes, OSSI, Mung bean, Sustainable ag, Agroecology, Collard greens, African orphan crops, Olive diversity, Mezcal threats, German perry, Spanish tomatoes, N fixation

  1. A sustainable blue cheese industry needs more microbial diversity.
  2. The Open Source Seed Initiative gets written up in The Guardian. Looks like we need something similar for cheese microbes.
  3. The Guardian then follows up with mung bean breeding and fart jokes.
  4. But then goes all serious with talk of trillions of dollars in benefits from sustainable food systems. Diversity not mentioned, alas, though, so one wonders about the point of the previous pieces.
  5. Fortunately Indigeneous Colombian farmers have the right idea about sustainability.
  6. Collard greens breeders do too, for that matter.
  7. More African native crops hype for Dr Wood to object to. Seriously though, some crops do need more research, if only so they can be grown somewhere else.
  8. There’s plenty of research — and art for that matter — on the olive, but the international genebanks could do with more recognition.
  9. The mezcal agave, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have much diversity in genebanks, and it is threatened in the wild.
  10. Perry culture in Germany is also threatened. Pretty sure there are genebanks though.
  11. This piece about tomato diversity in Spain is worth reading for many reasons (heroic seed saving yada yada), but especially for the deadpan take on the Guardia Civil at the end.
  12. Maybe we could breed some of those tomatoes to fix their own nitrogen. And get the Guardia Civil to pay for it.

Brainfood: Breeding edition

  1. Last bit added purely for clicks, I’m desperate. []