Water buffalo diversity

Michael Kubisch is a geneticist and reproductive physiologist working at the Tulane National Primate Research Center in the New Orleans area. He’s sent us his take on a recent paper on the genetics of the water buffalo. We really welcome this kind of contribution from our readers. Keep ’em coming! Here’s what Michael has to say:

Results of an interesting study by Chinese researchers have just been published, describing an extensive analysis of the genetics of Chinese swamp water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis). The Chinese swamp-type buffalo differs from the Indian river-type buffalo by the fact that it has 48 chromosomes compared to the 50 found in the latter. There is a third subspecies, the wild water buffalo, which may still exist in Southeast Asia, although its population size and genetic status are unknown and the animal is listed on the IUCN red list as being threatened. Based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA (which is solely inherited from one’s mother and consequently ideal for tracing maternal inheritance patterns), it appears that river and swamp buffalo split about 28,000 years ago with a further split in the swamp buffalo into two maternal lines taking place about 18,000 years ago. The genetic diversity varies between the two swamp buffalo matrilines in China and the authors suggest that the difference between the two lines might in part be due to the fact that occasional genetic introgression from wild swamp buffalo might have taken place into one of the lines. Interestingly, domestication of water buffalo seems to have occurred independently in India and China, most likely as a result of rice cultivation. Substantial numbers of water buffalo outside exist Asia, among other countries in Italy, where, as any cheese afficionado will know, their milk is used for the production of mozzarella.

Linnaeus 2.0

Linnaeus was born 300 years ago. I’m not sure how many species he catalogued in his time, but his 21st century descendants at The Catalogue of Life have reached one million. I checked, and this does include some domesticated plants, but not, I think, in any systematic way. What they seem to have done at the Catalogue is to make it possible for users to search across 37 existing taxonomic databases, so if one or more of those include a particular crop species, you’ll get a hit if you search the Catalogue, and you’ll be directed to the original source of the data.

Good ethnobotanists have healthier children

A study of the Tsimane, an indigenous group of foragers and farmers inhabiting a remote area of the Amazon lowlands of Bolivia, has determined that mothers who are more knowledgeable about plants and their uses tend to have healthier children. According to this summary of the results, Dr Victoria Reyes-García, one of the co-authors of the study, pointed out that “globalization threatens this knowledge to the extent that formal schooling and jobs in emerging markets devalue folk knowledge and provide access to products not made from local resources, but without providing adequate medical treatment substitutes.” I’ll have to find the original paper, because what the summary doesn’t say, and which it would be great to know, is whether better ethnobotanical knowledge translated into more diverse family gardens and more diverse diets.