A decade ago, a group of crop scientists set out to grow the same plants in the same way. They started with the same breeds and adhered to strict growing protocols, but nonetheless harvested a motley crop of plants that varied in leaf size, skin-cell density, and metabolic ability. Small differences in light levels and plant handling had produced outsize changes to the plants’ physical traits, or phenome.
The plunging price of genomic sequencing has made it easier to examine a plant’s biological instructions, but researchers’ understanding of how a plant follows those instructions in a given environment lags. “There is a major bottleneck for a lot of breeders to be able to get their phenotypic evaluation in line with their genetic capabilities,” says Bas van Eerdt, business development director at PhenoKey, in ’s-Gravenzande, Netherlands.
Read the rest of this news story in the January issue of IEEE Spectrum: [html] [pdf].
When water does come to the former Kingdom of Lo, in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, it is often sudden and violent. A storm may boil over a mountain ridge, a glacial dam may collapse, or meltwater may surge through a gorge. But slower, less-visible changes are forcing the region’s farmers and herders to reconsider their relationship with water and each other.
Continue reading Squeezing water from a drying Himalayan desert
Una plaga de mosca blanca cayó hace dos décadas en los campos de chilhuacle amarillo, rojo y púrpura de la familia Martínez. El chilhuacle es el chile estrella en varias versiones del plato insignia de Oaxaca –el mole, claro–, y por mucho tiempo los cocineros habían estado pagando altos precios por las notas ahumadas y cítricas de este chile. Pero su costo estaba a punto de subir todavía más. Continue reading Al rescate del chile más emblemático de México
A plague of whiteflies descended on the Martínez family’s fields of yellow, red, and deep purple chilhuacle in southern Mexico two decades ago. Chilhuacle is the star chilli in several versions of Oaxaca’s signature dish – mole – and cooks had long paid a premium for the chilli’s unique smoke and citrus flavours. But its cost was about to climb higher.
The Martínez family and the few other growers lost much of their chilhuacle crops in 1997. That year marked the start of a slow decline in chilhuacle production. Despite the chilli’s high market price, many growers stopped planting it. Continue reading Saving Mexico’s most totemic chilli