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Sweet potato expert passes away

by Luigi Guarino on January 23, 2015

Very sad to hear of the passing a few days ago of Dr Daniel F. Austin. Among other things, he was one of the world’s top experts on the biodiversity of the sweet potato and its wild relatives.

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Tracking down Chinese pigs

by Luigi Guarino on January 22, 2015

The most obvious impact has been on the pigs themselves. Until the 1980s farms as large as Mr Ouyang’s were unknown: 95% of Chinese pigs came from smallholdings with fewer than five animals. Today just 20% come from these backyard farms, says Mindi Schneider of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. Some industrial facilities, often owned by the state or by multinationals, produce as many as 100,000 swine a year. These are born and live for ever on slatted metal beds; most never see direct sunlight; very few ever get to breed. The pigs themselves have changed physically, too. Three foreign breeds now account for 95% of them; to preserve its own kinds, China has a national gene bank (basically a giant freezer of pig semen) and a network of indigenous-pig menageries. Nevertheless, scores of ancient variants may soon die out.

That comes from an article in the Christmas edition of The Economist dissecting the consequences of the vertiginous increase in pork consumption in China since the liberalization of agriculture in the 1970s. I tried to find out more about that pig genebank, but it hasn’t been easy. The Country Report for the First Report on the State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources mentions State Domestic Animal Gene Banks in Beijing and Jiangsu, but adds few details. I suspect the institute in question is CAAS’s Institute of Animal Sciences, but its website does not help much. Wherever it is, the Chinese national pig genebank is going to be busy. DAD-IS lists something like 125 named pig breeds from China, from the Anqing Six White to the Zhejiang Middle Large. One of them — the Wuzhishan — has even had its genome sequenced. On the other hand, it may not be so bad, as according to a 2003 paper, “extensive research on pig genetic diversity in China indicates that these 18 Chinese indigenous breeds may have one common ancestor…”

Incidentally, another agrobiodiversity-themed article in the same issue of the magazine deals with the turkey, and is a nice complement to Jeremy’s two forays into that succulent subject over at Eat This Podcast.

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Chefs help conserve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

by Luigi Guarino on January 21, 2015

I believe we have Nibbled both of these articles, but I think they could stand another few minutes in the limelight. One describes how self-described “farmer-scientist” Dr Brian Ward of Clemson University — with a little help from his friends — is bringing back from near extinction a peanut variety called Carolina Africa Runner:

Luckily, in the 1940s North Carolina State University collected samples of a variety of peanuts during a breeding program, and the Carolina’s germplasm was preserved.

The second article is about maverick Washington State University breeder Dr Stephen Jones’s attempts to come up with better tasting bread.

Several years ago, he started a project called the Bread Lab, a Washington State program that approaches grain breeding with a focus on the eventual culinary end goal. The idea came about because Jones says he was tired of the USDA and Big Ag dictating the traits that he needed to breed for. “They would tell us [a certain wheat variety] doesn’t make a good loaf of bread. Well, what they meant was an industrial, high-speed, mixing, full of junk, white — just lily-white — bread,” Jones says. “And we didn’t want that opinion, so we had nowhere to go.”

WhatOne of the several things the stories have in common is the involvement of chefs. Now, there must also be one out there interested in heirloom fruits. Then we could bring them all together…

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ABS on genetic resources straight from the horse’s mouth

20 January 2015

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), recently gave a very nice, clear answer to a question on the relationship between the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) regimes of the CBD and of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It […]

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European livestock breed conservation assessed

20 January 2015

A further addition to the mass of online information on livestock genetic resources around the world. It’s the final report of the SUBSIBREED project, providing and “Overview and assessment of support measures for endangered livestock breeds” in Europe. It was put together by the European Regional Focal Point for Animal Genetic Resources (ERFP), which is […]

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Brainfood: Safflower diversity, Afghan wheat diversity, Cassava diversity, SP drought tolerance, Olive diversity, Community genebanks, Organic yield meta-analysis, On farm success, Standardizing phenotyping, Wild collecting

19 January 2015

Assessment of Genetic Diversity and Population Structure in a Global Reference Collection of 531 Accessions of Carthamus tinctorius L. (Safflower) Using AFLP Markers. Bayesian analysis of genetic diversity of global (43 countries) collection held in India reveals 19 geographic groups, with most diversity in the Near East and Iran–Afghanistan regions. Molecular evaluation of orphan Afghan […]

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Global Forest Genetic Resources: Taking Stock

17 January 2015

December saw the publication of a special, open access issue of Forest Ecology and Management on “Global Forest Genetic Resources: Taking Stock.” Ian Dawson, one of the editors, has blogged chez nous about a couple of the papers. Here is the full table of contents, with links to both the papers and Ian’s posts. Loo […]

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The Global Crop Diversity Trust meets its stakeholders at Green Week

16 January 2015

Lots going on today. The Crop Trust’s First Stakeholder Discussion will be held on 16 January 2015 in Berlin, Germany, in conjunction with the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA), during the annual Green Week International Agricultural Fair. Its thematic focus will be on the central role of international crop collections in preserving crop […]

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Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food

16 January 2015

Jeremy is at the Amsterdam Symposium on the History of Food. If we’re all very good, he may tweet it live(ish) for us. And we may even get some podcasts out of it, who knows…

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