Busy bees

A forthcoming Science paper by Charles W. Whitfield, a professor of entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and others looks at the evolution of the honey-bee, Apis mellifera. EurekAlert has a summary and some pithy quotes from the author here. SNPs revealed that the honey-bee originated in Africa and then spread to Europe in two waves, resulting in genetically-distinct though nearly sympatric populations there. No word on whether these migrations could be related to human movements in any way, at least not in the summary.

Stronger, straighter bananas

Is biofortification still the next big thing, or is it yesterday’s news already? Anyway, here’s an article on an Australia-Uganda collaboration on bananas funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But Pohnpei nutritionist Dr Lois Englberger has reminded me that foods do not contain vitamin A, as implied in the article. They contain vitamin A precursors, provitamin A carotenoids, mainly beta-carotene, which the body uses to synthesize vitamin A.

Altering the almighty alpaca

There’s an alpaca improvement project based at the Munay Paq’ocha laboratory (“beautiful alpaca” in Quechua) in a place called Macusani in the highlands of southern Peru where they measure follicle density, fibre diameter and elasticity and use the data to choose the best parents for their breeding programme. The BBC is there. See also this piece on the use of microchips to track the alpaca herd.

Domestication my ass

Why was the Somali wild ass domesticated and not, say, the zebra? It’s a cantankerous animal at best. Washington University archaeologist Fiona Marshall is travelling the world looking at bones and wild populations, but she is also studying the behaviour of the St Louis Zoo’s five wild asses with Zoo researcher Cheryl Asa to seek “clues as to how they were turned into donkeys,” according to this article.

Tang tequila?

The whole thing turned out to be probably based on a mis-translation, but a story that the Chinese were trying to make and market “tequila” has led to this rapid-fire, rather fun run-through the concept of geographic indications in Salon’s How the World Works section. Actually, geographic indications may turn out to be a very useful form of IPRs for developing country products based on biodiversity.