How breeders use genome information

Everything you’ve always wanted to know about the use of genomic information in plant breeding but were afraid to ask is covered in a feature article from the US Department of Agriculture. Well, not quite everything, but Improving Crop Plants Through Genomics does offer a quick run down on some of the techniques and some of the projects, including one on nutritional quality and others on marginal environments and pests and diseases.

Strange take on Svalbard

There’s an odd piece on the proposed genebank on the Norwegian island of Svalbard at a web site called Science and Spirit. The authors outline the background and purpose of the “Doomsday” genebank, which is being promoted by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and have a little fun with the notion that post-catastrophe survivors will know how to get to Svalbard and what to do with the seeds they find there, always presuming they can penetrate the concrete vault without a key. Then they segue into a lament for the loss of Biblical varieties, which might have contained cures for diseases. It’s all very odd, but like the lady said, all publicity is good publicity. Come to think of it, how will survivors of a calamity make use of the Noah’s Ark genebank on Svalbard?

Mapping agriculture in Bhutan

Great to hear about a national atlas of natural resources, including agriculture, for Bhutan. Such publications are not as common as one might think, alas, but I can’t think of anything more useful in planning agricultural biodiversity conservation activities in a country.

Health and agriculture

To follow the last post, here’s a photo-essay from the BBC on another useful insect, the “desert shrimp,” better known as the locust. Useful? Well, that may be overstating the case, but they are widely eaten in the Sahara, deep fried in vegetable oil. I have tried them. Not as bad as one might think.

Anyway, what I really wanted to alert you all to is that the latest Spore and New Agriculturalist are out. There are lots of interesting pieces, both brief and longer, but is it a coincidence that both issues focus on aspects of agriculture and health? Spore has a feature on “functional foods” here, things that provide disease prevention as well as nutrition. New Agriculturalist has number of articles on various different aspects of the topic here, plus other sources of information.

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.