Brazil and US work on exchange of genetic resources

Brazilian and US scientists are working together on basic research into germplasm storage, according to an article from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The research is part of a scientific collaboration between Brazil’s EMBRAPA and the US Agricultural Research Service which has been in place since 1998. Genebank management is a relatively recent topic for the collaboration, which is extending to animal genetic resources. A Brazilian programmer is working with ARS to develop the animal genetic resources component of GRIN.

The two groups of scientists are also working on the physical exchange of material between their two countries. Let’s hope they’ve got their access and benefit sharing details all worked out.

The place of meat

I just had to link to Tom Philpott’s latest over at Gristmill, for its truly wonderful headline: In Seitan’s Lair.

Seitan, for those unfamiliar with it, is what you are left with if you wash a good lump of wheat dough under water. All the starch goes down the plug, leaving you with a ball of essentially pure wheat gluten protein that can then be fashioned into various meat substitutes.

It crops up late in Philpott’s musings, as an aside on vegan cooking, but if I had been smart enough to think of the headline I would not have let its irrelevance to the whole article put me off either. Anyway, the entire article is worth a read because it tries to put meat-eating into context, reminding us that meat fattened on grain is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that good farming requires diversity, of which livestock should be a small, but important component. Just as meat can be a small but important component of a good diet.

To the vegetarians and vegans who take a different view, I would point out only that animals are awfully good at turning things we humans choose not to eat, like grass and acorns and household scraps, into things we do, like lamb chops cheese and prosciutto. It seems wasteful not to use them in that way.

EU conserves sheep and goats

Not sure what to make of this. A European Research Headline piece of news gives some information about a project to use molecular genetics, socio-economics and geostatistics to decide which populations of sheep and goats are worth conserving. But the article doesn’t actually say anything about the project’s conclusions. And when I looked earlier today the project web site had not been updated since Agusut 2006. That’s annoying because the results could well be interesting and I’d really like to know how they analyzed the information and how they used it to advise policymakers.

Silk-making in Kenya

The Sunday Nation has a feature article in its Lifestyle section on silk making in the semi-arid district of Mwingi in Kenya. Apparently, the silk worm used is a hybrid of the wild species found in the area and the domestic strain. People collect eggs in the bush and rear them in mosquito net cages. When it comes time to harvest the cocoons, some of the pupae are allowed to mature and fly back to the acacia bushes. The Commercial Insect Programme of the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) has helped a local womens’ group establish the first silk processing factory in the region. According to the article, a different race of the wild silk moth is being evaluated in Pokot and other highland areas for the production of tussar or kosa silk. This is a much prized form of naturally coloured silk produced from cocoons from which the moth has emerged naturally in the wild. Fascinating business.

Where the buffalo roam

There are about 300,000 American bison left. How many of them are genetically pure? I don’t know about you, but I would have guessed many more than the 10,000 quoted in this article. The vast majority have some cattle genes, it turns out, due to past hybridization efforts by ranchers. The largest “un-contaminated” herd is in the Yellowstone National Park. Scientists are doing DNA studies across the range of the species to develop a management strategy. There are plans to reconstitute large tracts of the prairies, and pure bison are needed to roam them. But my question is: how many cattle herds have buffalo genes?