Brazil to market biodiversity

Under an Environment Ministry initiative in Brazil research groups have selected 775 species to encourage production and hopefully develop major markets. Read about it here:

Five books will be published this year, each dedicated to one of the five major regions of Brazil, containing the knowledge that has been accumulated about these “plants of the future”. Seminars for the business community will be held to spread the word about the potential of these plants, which are ornamental or used to produce foods, beverages, medicines, oils and perfumes.

Breeding info

Getting the new issue of CropBiotech Update in my inbox today, and noticing at least a couple of crop improvement items I would like to blog about at some stage, prompted a reflection on sources of information on the use of agricultural biodiversity in breeding.

Produced by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), you can get CropBiotech Update delivered by email once a week or check out the website here (where you can subscribe to an RSS feed or sign up for the email alerts). FAO also has a news service in biotechnology, which you can check out here. You can sign up for monthly email alerts, but I couldn’t see any RSS feeds, unfortunately.

Somewhat broader than either of these, but with some overlap, is Plant Breeding News, sponsored by FAO and Cornell University. You can sign up to the email alerts, consult the archives and learn how to contribute here. BIO-IPR is an irregular listserver produced by GRAIN. It focuses on PGR policy issues, and you can find out more about it here.

Finally, I just wanted to mention an example of a national-level agricultural research newsletter which provides information on breeding programmes, DIDINET News from the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Papua New Guinea. DIDINET stands for “Didiman/Didimeri Network” or a network for scientists and other stakeholders in the agriculture sector. There must be lots of other examples of such national newsletters. I wonder if someone has compiled a list.

And of course I haven’t mentioned the various ways the CGIAR Centres disseminate information about crop breeding, such as this one, for example. But maybe Jeremy will say something about that. He knows more about it than I do.

Too delicious

Q: When is potato diversity not potato diversity?
A: When it is in the hands of assorted experts.

Potato-Close-Up I hate to be pedantic here. (Actually, that’s a terrible lie; I love to be pedantic, especially about crops and food.) But if you look closely at the photograph, and you know your tubers, you’ll know that those aren’t potatoes in the picture. They are oca and mashua. Andean tubers, to be sure, but not potatoes. So who made this elemental error? None other than the good folks at the International Year of the Potato.

Worse, it’s on the page specifically addressed “Hey, kids!” (Lord how I love that exciting exclamation mark.) One could, of course, argue that the caption just happens to be underneath a photo of other Andean tubers. But that won’t wash. What we have here is a total and abject failure to know anything whatsoever about potatoes. How can kids! trust anything else on the page?

I’m sure that the International Year of the Potato will be a good thing, just as the International Year of Rice was a good thing. I’m equally sure someone will eventually detect this egregious and appalling error. In the meantime, just to be on the safe side, I snapped the page and am preserving it here for posterity.

And hey, potato people, my rates remain reasonable.

Using biodiversity collections

Researchers have estimated rates of reproduction and survival for the marbled murrelet by “comparing the ratios of birds in different age groups using 170 specimens collected between 1892 and 1922 housed in the collections of the California Academy of Sciences and the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology … with values predicted from comparison with other bird species, and with contemporary rates obtained from murrelets they captured at sea and from their mark-recapture studies.” The results suggested that birth rates were almost 10 times higher for this endangered seabird 100 years ago than they are today. Read all about it here. That’s a very creative use of a biodiversity collection to explain the recent decline in numbers of this species, and its conservation status. Has something similar been done with herbarium and/or plant genebank collections? I can’t think of any examples, but they must be out there…

Prioritizing African protected areas

This EU-funded project has looked at all the national parks and reserves in Africa and assessed the contribution each makes to conserving biodiversity as part of the overall system of protected areas. Really an incredible job. Mainly dealing with animals, however, so I wonder if something similar could be done with things like wild crop relatives or something. Also, could these techniques be applied to in situ crop conservation?