Old vines in a new catalogue

Who doesn’t love old trees? I, for one, could read about them for days. And, alas, have occasionally done so. Especially if they are cultivated species. The internet is full of old, attractively gnarled olive trees, for example. Old grapevines, not so much. There was recently that piece in The Economist about recreating Leonardo’s vineyard, but that’s not quite the same thing.

So it was a pleasant surprise to come across the Old Vines Register, curated by wine expert Jancis Robinson. Turns out there are some 400-year-old vines out there. Which I’d really like to see some day.

Anyway, since I’m talking grapes, I might as well highlight the work of the Vitis Working Group of the European Cooperative Programme for Plant Genetic Resources (ECPGR). Note in particular their “On-farm inventory of minor grape varieties in the European Vitis Database.” There must be some pretty old vines among those.

As for genebanks, there are 16,000 accessions of cultivated Vitis out there (plus 2,400 wild relatives), according to Genesys, though only about 1,900 are geo-referenced (see map below). Genesys, remember, brings data from ECPGR’s European genebank database, Eurisco, together with that from genebanks in other parts of the world. There is also a separate European Vitis Database, though I’m not sure of the exact overlap with Eurisco.

What of the future? Well, we’re probably going to need all that diversity given what climate change is already doing to the crop. A recent Twitter thread by Dr Sarah Taber analyzed the depiction of vineyards in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation set in the year 2367. We’ll just have to see if her decidedly critical view of twenty-fourth century management practices is borne out in the forthcoming series, which does seem to feature, at least according to the trailer, somewhat better kept, though not particularly old-looking, vines. No word yet on what varieties the Picards grew, and will grow.

Brainfood: Cassava diversity, Landrace diversity double, Soybean oil quality, Cucurbit domestication, Carrot colours, Pharaonic emmer, Teosinte RILs, Chinese pigs, Brazilian apples, Teosinte diversity, Forests & diets, Forest productivity, Agricultural productivity

Mainstreaming agrobiodiversity for nutrition

A new discussion paper from GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, looks at some indicative Policies and financing to spur appropriate private-sector engagement in food systems. “Appropriate” meaning conducive to the production and consumption of more agrobiodiverse diets. It’s not long, so you should probably read the whole thing. But here are the take-home messages, to whet your appetite, as it were:

  • reduce taxes and increase subsidies on nutritious crops and foods (eg fruits and vegetables)
  • amend policies which encourage biofortification and industrial fortification to also include encouraging the increased production and consumption of existing nutritious species and varieties
  • make the case for diverse farming systems to impact investors and blended finance practitioners
  • nudge business sustainability strategies to include biodiversity and ecosystem considerations (eg, via the Agrobiodiversity Index)

Not a comprehensive list, of course, but a pretty good start.

PGR training needs identified

There’s an open access Crop Science Special Issue out under the title: Connecting Agriculture, Public Gardens and Science. Well worth having a look at. There’s great stuff on crop wild relatives, plant awareness, chefs, and trans-situ conservation, just to give you a flavour.

I’ll just highlight here the paper by Gayle Volk and others on training needs in plant genetic resources conservation.1 The authors sent out a survey and analyzed the feedback from 425 respondents by type of institution: academia, NPGS, CGIAR, national genebanks, NGOs and the private sector. There were, fortunately, some topics which a majority across all institutions considered high priority areas for training:

  • accessing information
  • crop wild relatives
  • genotyping
  • phenotyping
  • intellectual property and regulatory issues

But there was also some differences.

The respondents from academia were also interested … in prebreeding, which is not surprising because many of these respondents were plant breeders. Respondents from the private sector were also interested … in requests/distributions and prebreeding, and respondents from NGOs were also interested … in collection gap analyses, explorations, germplasm preservation, intellectual property, and regulations. The genebank respondents (NPGS, CGIAR, non-NPGS government) considered germplasm preservation, intellectual property, and general concepts in plant genetic diversity as priority topics. These differences among the institutional types are not surprising due to their different missions.

This all came out of an initiative from the NPGS that started back in early 2018. Training materials of various types are being developed. Will keep you posted.

  1. Volk, G. M., P. K. Bretting, and P. F. Byrne. 2019. Survey Identifies Essential Plant Genetic Resources Training Program Components. Crop Sci. 59:2308-2316. doi:10.2135/cropsci2019.05.0324. []