Thursday, September 29, 2011

Blue Potato Chips

JetBlue airlines now gives out blue potato chips as their "official" snack.

I'm very impressed by the fact that these blue potato chips exist. It's no small feat to create a good-frying potato with excellent agronomic qualities in itself. I can't imagine crossing in blue coloring (anthocyanin expression) on top of this in a reasonable amount of time - especially since potatoes aren't true to seed. Non true to seed crops like potatoes have messy, highly heterozygous genomes that when crossed (or selfed) produce offspring that segregate for all the traits you care about. I've been told that potato breeders typically make a bunch of crosses in the first year of their program - and then spend the rest of their careers evaluating and propagating the resulting segregants asexually.

Though the chips really are purple, not blue...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Polycultures in Modern Ag?

The September issue of CSA news has a nice (open access) article entitled: "Do polycultures have a role in modern agriculture?"

Some key caveats:
  • While diverse plant mixtures have been associated with many benefits, high biomass yield (i.e. what farmers get paid for) is usually not one of them.
  • It's very difficult to maintain complex plant mixtures - usually a single species will come to dominate.
  • Our crop monocultures represent those crops that are best adapted to a given region.
  • Establishing, maintaing and harvesting polycultures will require significant effort, risk, investments and training for farmers.
They conclude that polycultures are intriguing but definitely require more (agronomically realistic) research. 

Thoughts?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Evolution of Fruit Shape in Tomato

Someday you'll be able to use CAD software to draw up what you want a plant to look like and the software (containing detailed growth models) will tell you what genetic constructs you need to bring it into the world...

But for now we barely understand how natural morphological variation is controlled. So I was excited to see this paper out of the van der Knaap and Francis labs. In it, they review some of the known levers by which tomato plants control fruit shape and investigate their historical appearance.

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