Fermenting the biofuel revolution

Part 2 of my musings on bioenergy is now available. This ramble looks at a novel form of breeding yeast, persuading it to make many more errors as it copies its DNA, and thus throw up lots of mutants for engineers to select among. The result is a yeast of unparalleled potency that would have been all but impossible to produce by tinkering with one gene at a time. And that leads into a consideration of some of the policy aspects of biofuels, such as what poor people will eat when the bioenergy industry is paying more than double today’s price for food in order to turn that food into fuel.

DNA database of fungal biodiversity

Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley are working with samples from the Venice Museum of Natural History to create a DNA database of some 6000 different species. A press release from UC Berkeley gives more details of the project, which will zero in on a small portion of non-coding ribosomal DNA that is known to be unique to each species. The database will allow researchers to identify fungi conclusively without having to wait for them to fruit, an erratic process that can be subject to delays. This could help scientists to respond more rapidly to the global spread of some fungal pathogens. It will also be useful for taxonomic studies.

Borlaug Fellowships announced

Hurry on over to the USDA’s web site to see whether you qualify for one of the Norman E. Borlaug Fellowships, which “help developing countries strengthen sustainable agricultural practices by providing short-term scientific training and collaborative research opportunities to visiting researchers, policymakers and university faculty while they work with a mentor”. thn, let us know when you get one.

Livestock at risk

Another report from FA0 says that 20 percent of the world’s livestock breeds are at risk. And the culprits are those we’ve come to know and love; intensification, globalization, modernization. So what’s new? They may be planning to do something about it, that’s what. The report is part of a process leading up to the first International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources, to be hosted by the Government of Switzerland, in Interlaken in September 2007. Anyone out there want to keep an eye specifically on that topic?