Storing ram semen

There’s an article in The Economist (subscription needed, but you can also read it here), of all places, on the storage of livestock semen for transportation. There are apparently chemical additives available that prolong the life of bull and boar sperm, but nothing yet for ram sperm. This is a pity because semen is a much more convenient and cheap way of moving genes about than transporting live animals, not to mention safer. Which is why the ministry responsible for agriculture in the UK asked the Institute of Zoology in London to have a look at the problem. They decided to start by working out how all sorts of wild species with long-lived sperm – from bats to sharks – achieve that feat. A promising mixture of proteins called sAPM (soluble apical plasma membranes) has been identified, but the details are still secret. Could this have implications for ex situ conservation of sheep genetic resources?

An apple a day

Anthocyanins make apples red, and make people healthy, through their antioxidant action. Now we know where the gene which controls anthocyanin production in apples is located, because scientists at CSIRO in Australia measured how much different genes were expressed as differently coloured fruits ripened. This opens the way for marker-assisted selection, as colour can now be predicted even in seedlings. It seems that apple sales have been pretty flat lately, but that launching a new variety can sometimes give them a boost. That could now be easier. Now if only the same sort of intensity of effort could be directed at the marula, say.

Cattle cause global warming

Well that’s a bit strong perhaps. What this article, based on an FAO report, does point out, however, is that the burgeoning global livestock sector produces 18% of global carbon dioxide emissions – which is more than transport. It is also having other serious environmental impacts. What to do? The report makes suggestions in the focus areas of reversing land degradation, increasing the efficiency of livestock production, and better water use. Genetic resources could of course contribute to all these.

Grape origins

A paper in Conservation Genetics identifies (not, I think, for the first time) the Caucasus as the centre of diversity and origin of wild grapevine, at least based on microsatellites. A genetic refugium was detected in Sardinia, and it would be interesting to know whether the plastid lineage that is fixed there is responsible for the high levels of procyanidins in some local wines.