Lupins against hunger

Bread enriched with lupin flour left people feeling fuller than ordinary wheat bread, according to a recent report. This could be good news for people who would otherwise be taking anti-obesity pills, and even better news for Australia’s lupin farmers. That’s where the research was carried out. I didn’t know that lupin is already widely used in baked goods because it can replace (more expensive?) eggs and butter. Edible lupins are a common snack in Italy. They also periodically crop up as “neglected” species that could solve world hunger given half a chance. Whether this latest news will reinvigorate that effort is anybody’s guess.

Welsh wood promoted

From Wales, no less, that hotbed of biodiversity, comes a report on the use of wood to fuel power stations. Not exactly novel, the arguments are nevertheless entertaining.

“With a guaranteed outlet for the wood it makes sense to manage woodlands. If we take care when working the woodland it can also benefit biodiversity. By using a local product instead of imported oil we can support local businesses and use local labour.”

Get real, IK academics told

A meeting of Nigerian academics interested in traditional knowledge was told to be a bit more humble in the face of the “uneducated” people in whom such knowledge resides. Many of the papers at the meeting seem to have been concerned with putting traditional knowledge to work, for example to reduce imports of pharmaceuticals by replacing them with traditional medicinal plants. One wonders, though, about the knowledge levels — traditional or otherwise — of the speaker who apparently said:

“conventional drugs are chemicals and therefore toxic. They are costly, but natural products are environmentally friendly. Unlike chemicals, natural products promote biodiversity and conservation.”

Seems to me that a little more depth of understanding is needed on all sides. Sure, traditional knowledge can be useful. But it needs to be tempered with a bit of rational investigation.

Funding genebanks

This piece about a genebank being established in New Zealand to conserve threatened wild native plants (to go along with an existing facility for crops) got me thinking about funding arrangements for genebanks. The funds for the new venture in NZ are coming from MWH New Zealand, a consultancy company which says it provides “smart engineering, environmental, management and technology solutions.” That is admirable (I don’t see Halliburton supporting ex situ conservation any time soon), but how unusual is it exactly? The FAO’s State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources gives one sort of answer in Fig. 3.1 on page 84: 83% of the 6 million accessions conserved around the world are in national genebanks, 11% in the 12 CGIAR genebanks, and only 1.3% in private genebanks. Table 3.3 gives a total of over 1,300 genebanks worldwide. That makes the average size of a non-CGIAR collection about 3,000 accessions, which means there are maybe 20 or so private genebanks considered in the SOTWPGR statistics. But that probably means genebanks in the hands of the private sector, basically seed companies, not privately-funded national genebanks: over 75% of accessions in these private genebanks are advanced cultivars. I can’t find in the SOTWPGR a discussion of where the funds for national collections are coming from. Something like the Millennium Seed Bank in the UK receives a mixture of public and private support, for example, but I doubt the Gene Bank of Kenya, say, gets much private sector funding, though I could be wrong. About 11% of the 1,500 or so botanical gardens around the world are privately owned, and probably about half of these hold germplasm collections, giving maybe 70 or so privately owned botanic garden germplasm collections. Bottom line: examples of a private company – especially a private company which is not a seed company – supporting a national genebank are probably extremely rare around the world, and it will be interesting to see how the support MWH New Zealand is intending to provide will evolve in time. It is also worth noting that the Global Crop Diversity Trust, as a public-private partnership dedicated to the support of ex situ collection, will make drastic changes to this landscape.