Mo’ better agrobiodiversity graphics

Wouldn’t want you to miss out on this nice find from Jeremy’s last Eat This Newsletter of 2022, just because we’re in a new year now. But why not subscribe, eh? Incidentally, since we’re talking about the movement of crops around the world, and fancy graphics, you might as well also check out Bloomberg’s cool re-visualizations of the data in the 2014 paper “Increasing homogeneity in global food supplies and the implications for food security.”

In the decades after 1492 “a massive multidirectional transfer of biota, diseases, technology and humans occurred between Afro-Eurasia and the Americas”. But if you look at the standard maps of these movements, collectively known as the Columbian Exchange, you miss almost all the complexity and context of what moved, where, why, and what else was going on.

That’s the conclusion of a new paper: (Re)Mapping the Columbian Exchange. Suggestions for an Updated Cartography. The paper itself is behind a paywall, although one of the authors is a friend of the podcast so I may well invite him on to discuss the story in more detail. Thankfully, the maps themselves are available to download, and even a superficial glance shows that the story is much more interesting than the standard maps imply.

You can’t see the wealth of detail in this map, but you can download the full-sized version.

Each of them overcomes the “overly constrained geographic scope, chronological compression, non-depiction of the contemporaneous movement of important cultural, technological and biological elements of each product, ethnocentrism and the obscuring of human consequences” of the standard map, and I look forward to reading the new plant biographies just as soon as I get hold of the paper.

Brainfood: Neolithic microbiomes, Transeurasian languages, Rice history, Chinese Neolithic, Indo-European origins, Chalcolithic stews, Indus Valley hydrology, Bronze Age opium, Cassava storage

A chat with ChatGPT about genebanks

Along with everyone else, or so it seems, I’ve been playing with AI-based text generators. In particular, OpenAI’s conversational model ChatGPT. I started with the question: What is a genebank?

A genebank is a type of repository that stores genetic material, typically in the form of seeds or other plant material, for the purpose of conservation and preservation. Genebanks play an important role in protecting the diversity of plant species and maintaining the genetic resources that are essential for agricultural production and the development of new plant varieties. In addition to storing seeds, genebanks may also provide facilities for research and education, and may offer services such as seed testing and variety identification.

Allrighty then. Followed that up with a question about the disadvantages of genebanks.

There are a few potential disadvantages to genebanks. One is that the long-term preservation of genetic material can be challenging, and there is always a risk of samples being lost or degraded over time. Additionally, the use of genebanks can raise ethical concerns, particularly when it comes to the storage and use of genetic material from endangered or protected species. There can also be practical challenges associated with the distribution and access to genetic material in genebanks, as well as issues related to intellectual property and benefit sharing. Overall, while genebanks provide a valuable resource, it is important to carefully consider and address these potential disadvantages.

Damn. So is in situ conservation better?

In situ conservation refers to the preservation of plants and animals in their natural habitats, rather than in artificial environments like genebanks. In many cases, in situ conservation can be a more effective approach to preserving biodiversity, as it allows species to continue to thrive in their natural environments. This can also help to preserve the relationships between species and their ecosystems, which is important for the long-term health of the ecosystem. However, in situ conservation is not always possible, and genebanks can play an important role in preserving genetic material for future use. Both in situ conservation and genebanks can be important tools for conservation efforts, and the best approach will depend on the specific circumstances and goals of the conservation effort.

But which approach does ChatGPT prefer?

As a language model trained by OpenAI, I do not have personal preferences or opinions. My purpose is to provide accurate and reliable information to the best of my ability. In the case of conservation efforts, the most effective approach will depend on the specific goals and circumstances of the situation. Both in situ conservation and genebanks can be valuable tools, and the best approach may involve using a combination of both methods. Ultimately, the goal of conservation is to protect and preserve the diversity of life on Earth, and the most effective approach will depend on the unique needs of each species and ecosystem.

Ok, fair enough, let’s get a little more specific then: What’s the best way to conserve apple diversity?

There are several ways to conserve apple diversity, and the best approach will depend on the specific goals and resources available. Some potential strategies include:

In situ conservation: This involves preserving apple trees and their associated ecosystems in their natural habitats. This can help to protect the full range of genetic diversity within a species, as well as the relationships between apples and other species in the ecosystem.

Ex situ conservation: This involves collecting and storing samples of apple genetic material in a genebank for future use. This can help to preserve genetic diversity that may be lost in the wild, and can provide a valuable resource for research and breeding efforts.

Collaborative conservation efforts: This involves working with farmers, researchers, and other stakeholders to conserve apple diversity and promote sustainable apple production. This can include initiatives such as breeding programs, farm management practices, and education and outreach efforts.

Supporting conservation organizations: One of the best ways to support apple conservation is to donate to organizations that are working on apple conservation efforts. This can help to fund research and conservation efforts, and can make a real difference in protecting apple diversity.

Uff. Time to retire, methinks.

Brainfood: Silkworm, Donkey, Cat, Chicken, Neolithic, Shamans, Locusts