Sunday, May 6, 2012

Back on the subject of agricultural research

I'll be coming back to this.

From the Financial Times

[Cary] Fowler reminds me that losing varieties of crops means losing genes that may one day come into their own. He recounts the story of Jack Harlan, who in 1948 was collecting plants in Turkey. Harlan came across a wheat variety that looked scarcely worth picking up. "It was the most miserable-looking wheat. It had a poor yield, it was susceptible to lots of diseases, it fell over with rot... before it could be harvested." Some years later, wheat in the north-west of the US was attacked by stripe rust, and researchers scoured seed collections to find a way to help. The "miserable-looking" wheat turned out to be resistant. New varieties were bred to incorporate this quality. Fowler estimates that feeble-seeming wheat has been worth more than $100m a year to the US agrarian economy.

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