Olive oil spreads

There’s increasing recognition around the world that olive oil, as a key component of the so-called Mediterranean diet, is really good for you. The latest news is about its effect on ulcers. So obviously the traditional growing countries are trying to expand cultivation and production. But as this article points out, that’s not always so easy. Pity there’s nothing in the piece on varieties, though.

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.

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.

Accidental cross reveals salt-tolerant wheat genes

Scientists at the Australian CSIRO Plant Industry (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) have discovered two genes, called Nax1 and Nax2, that could be used to develop salt-tolerant wheats. Nax1 exudes sodium (Na, geddit?) from the leaves while Nax2 excludes it from the roots. The two genes appear to come from an ancient type of wheat, Triticum monococcum, that was accidentally crossed into a modern durum wheat line about 35 years ago. Rana Munns, the team leader, said the discovery was an amazing stroke of luck.

We screened a hundred durum wheats from the Australian Winter Cereals Collection at Tamworth, which contains tens of thousands of wheat types. Highlighting the fact that the science of plant breeding sometimes relies on an element of good fortune, we were lucky to find the durum variety with the ancient genes straight away, otherwise we might have been looking for years.

The search was motivated by the knowledge that 6% of the world’s arable areas are affected by salinity.

Personally, of course, I’d like to know more about that accidental cross that put T. monococcum genes into a modern bread wheat, but details are not forthcoming.

Article: Physiological Characterisation of Two Genes for Na+ Exclusion in Durum Wheat: Nax1 and Nax2.

The diverse crops of Kenya

I’ll be away for about a week so blogging might be a bit light, but I couldn’t resist mentioning the following four stories that were in the print edition of the Daily Nation this morning before leaving:

  1. A new climbing bean variety developed by the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute has been released and will be ready for commercial production by June.
  2. Coconut vendors in Mombasa are set to have access to a new technology (developed by FAO in collaboration with the Intermediate Technology Development Institute) for keeping coconut juice fresh for up to 3 weeks.
  3. The vice-chairman of the Rift Valley branch of the Kenya Horticultural Society asked local universities to start breeding new flower varieties rather than using material from the Netherlands and Israel.
  4. A group of Nyeri farmers have started selling their coffee directly to international dealers rather than through the traditional central auction system.

I thought the range of these articles really gave an good impression of the great variety of Kenyan agriculture and agricultural research.

See you again soon…