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Date:4/23/2014 11:06:29 AM
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Genetics and Farming, Part I
Last week, on the Hobby Farm homepage there was an article explaining the importance of researchers having cracked the genome code of bread-wheat. While most normal and sane people would find this mind-numbingly boring, I, and I suspect a number of my Hobby Farms colleagues, find this to be exciting news. I must confess, much of the science is beyond me, but, to quote from the article:
"(Wheat) accounts for approximately 20 percent of the calories humans consume yearly, and 35 percent of the population depends on growing and/or processing it for survival. Despite this worldwide dependence, the genetics of bread-wheat have long remained a mystery to scientists, mainly due to the plant’s genetic complexity and the large size of its genome (i.e., the genetic information contained in a cell).
To put the large size of the T. aestivum genome into perspective, it contains roughly five times the amount of DNA in the human genome. However, up to 80 percent of the bread-wheat genome consists of repetitive gene sequences, as the crop has six copies of each of its seven chromosomes. (Only 8 percent of human DNA is repetitive, and we have only two copies of our 23 distinct chromosomes.) This massive amount of genetic material makes it difficult to understand the origin of a specific DNA fragment.
So what does this mean for the agriculture community? First, scientists consider the presence of multiple copies of each chromosome a positive thing: Those six copies allow for specific chromosome selection when breeding new wheat hybrids. The hybridization of crops can often result in sterile offspring, but this selection ability can allow geneticists to avoid sterility by isolating chromosome copies that might cause it." (Hobby Farms website, December 20, 2012)
Did you get all that? (It took me a couple of read-throughs to grasp it myself). This reminds me of the incredible accomplishment of the Meso-American Indians of Mexico and Central America in developing maize from one or more strains of wild grasses indigenous to that area. Even now, there is no conclusive evidence as to which species of the Zea genus of grass were the original source of maize. Currently there are at least four theoretical models of how maize was developed. All I can say for certain is that this was accomplished by simple countrymen and women who were able to observe their world much more closely than we do today. It took an ability to think creatively and to wonder "what if?" It took many different communities of farmers experimenting over thousands of square miles of land and over thousands of years to come up with a literally "world changing" event and ever more remarkably, it took a more or less peaceful transfer of ideas and research in the form seed and produce trading to expand and complete this research. Never under-estimate the resourcefulness of country people. Just scroll up for Part II -- Gary
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