More light on Genesys

Attentive readers will know that I occasionally post references to Genesys, and sometimes even links to Genesys outputs, such as search results and maps. Some revision for inattentive readers: Genesys is a database that brings together passport data on accessions from multiple genebanks, and a web interface which allows you to explore the database in different ways.

Here I just wanted to point out three recent improvements:

  1. The huge amount of data from the USDA genebank system has been updated.
  2. The “how to use Genesys” blurb has been totally redone, hopefully for the better.
  3. A nifty little functionality which compares the passport data of accessions to identify possible duplicates has been added.

Any questions or suggestions, leave them below, and we’ll try to address them.

Seed storage seminars

The second Plantum Seed Technology Webinar is online tomorrow, 11 February at 3-4 PM CET. Register here.

  1. Jeremy Pardo (Van Buren lab, Michigan State University)
    Co-option of seed dehydration pathways during drought and desiccation in grasses: Some grasses can survive typically lethal drought events through entering a dormant, desiccated state until the return of water. We aimed to find what distinguishes this unique desiccation tolerance response from conserved drought responses observed in all grasses. This study was done in collaboration with a.o. Henk Hilhorst (Wageningen University and Research).
  2. Jae-Sung Lee (International Rice Research Institute)
    Exploring anti-ageing properties in rice seeds: Specific seed metabolites such as anti-oxidants are known improve seed longevity. Based on metabolomic and genomic analyses, a few metabolites belonging to vitamin, flavonoid and amino acid groups were associated with seed longevity in rice. Using SNPs we identified the DNA-haplotypes regulating the accumulation of these metabolites. This study was done in collaboration with Fiona Hay (Aarhus University).

Changing the food system, piece by piece

Hot on the heels of the Dasgupta Review1, here comes Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss, courtesy of Prof. Tim Benton of Chatham House and co-authors. Dasgupta said that losing biodiversity is bad, and we should try to stop it, and now. Benton says that the food system is to blame for biodiversity loss, and we can do something about it: by changing diets, by setting aside areas of nature and by farming more sustainably. He calls on the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) to embed a ‘food systems approach’ across key international processes, including UN climate negotiations.

Lawrence Haddad of GAIN is chair of Action Track 1 of the Summit: Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all. So it’s likely he gets a lot of advice like Prof. Benton’s about what should be done. In a blog post, he says that suggested “game-changers” seem to fall into five groups, no less:

  1. Rethinking current incentives
  2. Not wasting the crisis
  3. Breaking down barriers between fields
  4. Doing the obvious things, better
  5. Changing mindsets

It can all get a bit confusing, I have to say. So many ideas, options, trade-offs. Dr Haddad has multiple examples in each of those groups, and you and I could probably think of more. What’s to be done? How do we decide? Maybe, as the UNFSS process develops, some clear priorities will emerge. But perhaps we shouldn’t bank on that, nor do we need to. Perhaps, the thing to do… is to do everything. Certainly, we need to do something, and many, many little things might be easier to do, and better, than a few big things.

And to keep all our options open, to allow us to do everything we can think of, we’ll need all the crop diversity we can save, of course.

  1. On which more here. []

Brainfood: Corona, Restoration, Georeferencing, Bee decline, Mustard breeding, Banana seeds, Micronutrient decline, Potato micronutrients, GWAS, Trade, Deforestation alerts, Review method

The economics of biodiversity includes genebanks?

It’s 600-odd pages, but the Dasgupta Review on The Economics of Biodiversity, out today, may turn out to be worth reading in full, if these results of quick searches are anything to go by:

…widespread use of individual strains could deepen problems caused by the lack of genetic diversity in crops; introducing resistance into a wide variety of cultivars would counter this.

…future crop security in agriculture and industry is reliant on maintaining plant genetic diversity (Jump, Marchant, and Peñuelas, 2009). Another example of keeping our options open is the development of seed banks. Seed banks store the living genetic diversity of plants, in the form of seeds, to enable future use. Various types of seed bank exist, to support different sectors and interventions, e.g. agriculture, forestry, restoration and conservation. They provide a secure and relatively low-cost method of conserving a large amount of genetic material in a relatively small space.

The Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change Project was a global initiative covering 24 countries that focused on the seeds of wild relatives of 29 of the world’s most important crop species (Castañeda-Álvarez et al. 2016). Participants in this project have conserved 242 taxa of crop wild relatives. These collections will be used to identify traits of value in crop breeding, such as tolerance of heat, drought, salinity and waterlogging, resistance to pests and diseases, resistance to root rot, and yield.

Sustainable intensification seeks to use contemporary methods to increase crop yields. For example, maintaining soil fertility, improving water use efficiency and reducing chemical inputs can be achieved through zero tillage or intercropping with two or more crops. Other approaches include plant breeding for temperature and pest tolerance, creating bio-controls for crop pests and pathogens, and reducing fossil fuel use in agriculture…

In the meantime, read the hot takes from The Guardian and Kew.