Is the Fruit from Darwin’s Tree Edible?

first_imgDarwin’s “Tree of Life” fruit stand found an upbeat salesman in John Roach at National Geographic this week.  In his update on the “Assembling the Tree of Life” (AToL) project, he reported cheerfully that “New cures, supercrops, and secrets of evolution may emerge from the fast-growing branches of the ‘Tree of Life,’ scientists say.”    As more animal genomes get sequenced, the task of organizing them into ancestral trees becomes more complex.  There is more hope than accomplishment at this stage: “In trying to figure out how species are related to one another, it immediately becomes clear this is a very large problem that doesn’t have an end in sight any time very soon,” said one researcher.  The enormous task of determining who is related to whom is not a trivial undertaking, nowhere near to completion.    This means the fruit is not yet ripe for the picking, either.  Researchers hope that predictions can be made once the structure of the tree takes root in scientific consensus.  “For example, [James] Collins [NSF] says, if scientists want to find an organism that has properties useful in the cleanup of oil spills, they would first turn to microbes that have known beneficial properties and then examine the microbes’ nearest relatives for good matches.    To help engineer new crops, agricultural researchers might study genetic traits that make crops drought resistant.    [Michael] Donoghue, the Yale biologist, says scientists can use the tree to understand where emerging infectious diseases originate and to search for organisms that have evolved resistance to the diseases in question.  Such clues can lead to the development of new drugs, he says.    “Applications are everywhere,” he said.Yet these promises beg the question whether they depend on the Tree of Life project for fulfillment.  Scientists were making headway on these questions long before the AToL program started.  The article also begs another question: whether Darwin’s tree is the only paradigm fitting the data and providing the benefits.  Artificial selection has a long history preceding Darwin himself, let alone his tree analogy or this new AToL project.  Also, since creationists acknowledge a nested hierarchy picture of classification without the necessity for common ancestry, why wouldn’t that structure provide the same heuristic for scientific research, and the same benefits, without the Darwinian baggage?  Don’t count your fruit before it ripens.  Darwin’s tree has already dropped so many bad apples (08/23/2006),* some of us would rather look in a different orchard.(Visited 8 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Ethiopian wins World Food Prize

first_imgProf Gebisa Ejeta’s lifelong research into sorghum has changed the fortunes of many African farmers. (Image: World Food Prize) Ejeta and some of his Purdue students. (Image: World Food Prize) Gebisa Ejeta, 2009 World Food Prize laureate. (Image: World Food Prize) Janine ErasmusEthiopia’s Gebisa Ejeta is the 2009 World Food Prize laureate. The plant scientist was acknowledged, among other achievements, for his development of a drought-resistant and high-yield sorghum variety. Sorghum is one of the world’s five most important grains and feeds 500-million people in Africa alone.He follows in the footsteps of the renowned Monty Jones of Sierra Leone, the only other African laureate, who took the award in 2004 for his work in hybrid rice varieties that can grow in harsh African conditions. Among other projects, Jones worked on the development of the “miracle” hybrid rice, Nerica.Ejeta’s research into sorghum has changed the fortunes of thousands of small scale sub-Saharan farmers by increasing their crop yield. It has also helped drive the development of the commercial sorghum seed industry in Sudan.“I focused my research on sorghum because I’m originally from Africa,” he commented, “and I’ve known about the importance of the crop to the people there. So I wanted to work on improving sorghum.”Over the years Ejeta has inspired and trained a new generation of young African plant scientists. His efforts to improve the lot of subsistence farmers in Africa have resulted in a number of agricultural and educational programmes, such as access to credit and seed markets, which have enhanced many lives.His selection as 2009 World Food Prize laureate was announced in June 2009 by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and World Food Prize Foundation president Kenneth Quinn.“Dr Ejeta’s whole life reminds us of the international approach we need to this problem [of hunger],” said Clinton at the announcement. Ejeta will receive the award, viewed as the Nobel Prize of agriculture and worth US$250 000 (R2-million), at a ceremony on October 15 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.Currently professor of agronomy at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, Ejeta had made the university very proud of its son, said Purdue president France Córdova.“We’re thrilled that he is receiving the 2009 World Food Prize,” she said. “This is a sterling example of Purdue’s commitment to helping resolve the global challenges of world hunger.”Humble beginningsEjeta grew up in a small hut in a village central Ethiopia and overcame poverty and hardship to become one of the world’s most respected food scientists.His mother went to great lengths to secure an education for her son, making arrangements for him to attend school in a nearby town. This meant that he had to walk 20km twice a week, to school on Sunday evening and back home for the next weekend, but he proved to be a model student and also passed the high school qualification exam with ease.With financial sponsorship the young Ejeta enrolled in the Jimma Agricultural and Technical School, a project of Oklahoma State University under the US government’s Point Four Program. Here, too, Ejeta made his mark, graduating with distinction and then moving on to obtain a BSc in plant science from Alemaya College in 1973.Such was his prowess that his tutor at college introduced him to Purdue University’s John Axtell, a sorghum researcher of note. Axtell saw the potential that waited to be tapped, and invited Ejeta to become his graduate student at Purdue.Ejeta accepted, but had no idea at the time that he would be unable to return to his homeland for 25 years because of the political turmoil that was about to unfold. In 1974, the same year that he entered Purdue, the peace-loving emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by the brutal Derg, a communist military junta that wasted no time in establishing a one-party communist state.This was just the beginning. Under the rule of communism the country’s fortunes slid into misery until 1991, when the genocide Mengistu Haile Mariam was chased from Ethiopia, paving the way for a transitional government.Sorghum researchMeanwhile, Ejeta had no trouble in obtaining his doctorate in 1978 in plant breeding and genetics at Purdue, and later joined the staff. Today he holds a distinguished professorship.After his PhD, Ejeta took up research at the Sudanese branch of the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. This was where his first hybrid sorghum variety took root, and today many millions of poor sorghum farmers and their families have benefited from its drought-resistant and high-yield qualities.Released in 1983, the Hageen Dura-1 outperformed itself in the field, surpassing the 50% to 100% gains recorded in the trials and producing yields of up to 150%. By the turn of the century the crop was growing across more than a million acres in Sudan alone. Ejeta was so inspired by the positive reaction of impoverished farmers that he set up educational programmes to train them in the efficient use of fertilisers, soil and water, as well as structures to monitor production, processing and marketing of the super-sorghum.Ejeta and his students at Purdue later developed another hybrid for Niger, a country with more than 80% of its surface under the unforgiving sands of the Sahara desert. The drought-resistant AD-1 hybrid has helped farmers to reap yields of up to five times the national sorghum average.Striking against StrigaMore research in the 1990s brought a breakthrough in Ejeta’s mission to boost African food production. He developed a sorghum variety that does not succumb to the devastating parasitic Striga weed, or witchweed – viewed as the greatest obstacle to sustainable food production in Africa.Striga attacks grains and essential crops such as sugarcane, maize, rice, millet, barley and sorghum. Its pretty flowers belie the fact that it is capable of laying waste to entire smallholding crops, bringing ruin to subsistence farmers. The parasite has no substantial root system of its own and invades the root systems of other plants, stealing essential nutrients and stunting growth.The United Nations, in a 2009 report released under its Environmental Programme division, estimates that Striga infests 40% of Africa’s precious fertile land, and affects over 100-million people on the continent.The significance of Ejeta’s Striga-resistant sorghum was therefore immense, especially since all previous scientific attempts to defeat the weed had failed.Ejeta and Purdue colleague Larry Butler identified the sorghum chemical that attracts the Striga. From there, the two developed a process to stop the release of this chemical in a range of sorghum varieties, at the same time conferring on the grain the ability to adapt more readily to various ecological conditions in Africa.In 1994, with the help of Christian poverty alleviation organisation World Vision International, Japanese philanthropical organisation Sasakawa, and USAID, Ejeta managed to distribute eight tons of the wonder sorghum in 12 countries, including Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eritrea, Kenya and Mali. Since then farmers have enjoyed up to four times the yield they reaped previously.He plans to continue his work into sorghum genetics and food developmental work. “The need out there is great, so there is more to do. We need to encourage the development of similar advances in maize, millets and other crops of Africa.”Do you have queries or comments about this article? Contact Janine Erasmus at [email protected] articlesSuper sorghum for AfricaAfrican farmers’ sorghum success“Miracle” rice fights African hungerUganda leads rice researchUseful linksWorld Food PrizePurdue University agronomy departmentUnited Nations Environmental ProgrammeWorld Vision InternationalSasakawaInternational Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropicslast_img read more

South Africans, help brand your country!

first_img1 June 2011The International Marketing Council of South Africa (IMC) has called on ordinary South Africans to help SA compete globally by building the country’s image and brand, and do their bit to put an end to misconceptions about the country at home and abroad.The body, which is responsible for marketing South Africa domestically and abroad, has appealed to all citizens, including business and the government, to rally behind Brand South Africa through the demonstration of ubuntu, innovation, creativity, sustainability, diversity and possibility, the five pillars of Brand South Africa.This and other pertinent issues highlighting the need for patriotism were discussed with entrepreneurs, chief executives, the government, leaders of civil society and the like at a one-day stakeholder summit in Johannesburg on Tuesday. The meeting was the first of a series of provincial summits that have been planned for the rest of the year. Limpopo province is next on the list.Dina Pule, the deputy minister in the Presidency, said the branding of South Africa was no longer a choice, but a necessity which required the concerted effort of all stakeholders to achieve “any real measure of success”.Because of the rapid advancement of globalisation, South Africa needed to fight for its share of attention and respect from the international media, governments and citizens of other countries. Pule said the country ought to re-shape its national identity to compete with other nations for power, prestige, influence and wealth, while attracting tourism and investment and creating jobs.Team South AfricaChichi Maponya, the IMC board deputy chairman, said every South African should embrace the concept of building and enhancing the nation’s brand. She urged every citizen to rally behind Team South Africa, and help the IMC to fulfil its mandate. “A nation brand is a promise made. A successful nation brand is one that is kept,” she said.Maponya encouraged all South Africans to act as national ambassadors and help debunk myths about the country, while creating new perceptions. “A nation’s brand is key to its success irrespective whether it is an advanced or developing economy,” she said.The IMC’s primary role is to develop and implement a pro-active marketing, communication and reputation management strategy for the country. It aims to attract investment and enhance tourism, trade and business with the international community. Its long-term goals include making South Africa a top 20 brand and a top 30 globally competitive nation by 2020.“To achieve this we need every member of Team SA to align their business and marketing strategies as far as possible with the objectives of building a strong, reputable nation brand for South Africa,” said Maponya.She noted that the inclusion of South Africa in the BRICS alliance of emerging countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – placed the nation at the “cutting edge of a new global paradigm, which could help reach consensus on issues such as trade, poverty reduction, the global financial system, and the growing tensions around limited resources”.Brand South AfricaThe IMC board chairman, Anitha Soni, said rallying behind Brand South Africa was “easy”.“Share your innovations and creativity, partner with brand South Africa on their programmes. Create sustainable initiatives that depict who we are as a nation, and what the future we co-create looks like. Build South Africa for us to live and develop in, a South Africa known internationally for its ability to easily do business with and ultimately a South Africa with a sustainable competitive advantage,” Soni explained.The IMC was established in 2002 as an agency of the state charged with creating a positive image of South Africa.It has several ways that people can help make South Africa great:Create the reality of global competitiveness;Identify and leverage symbolic events, people and places to communicate South Africa’s identity and reputation;Provide clear, believable and positive communication of what South Africa really is, what it stands for and its vision;Stimulate relevant and critical innovations;Create harmony and co-ordination to tell the same powerful, believable and interesting story about South Africa; andNourish confidence, pride, harmony, ambition and national resolve to enhance the national Active Citizenship Mobilisation Campaign.Source: City of Johannesbrglast_img read more

Watters honored as International Certified Crop Adviser of the Year

first_imgShare Facebook Twitter Google + LinkedIn Pinterest The International Certified Crop Adviser (ICCA) Program and American Society of Agronomy have named Harold Watters of Ohio the 2018 ICCA of the Year.Harold Watters, leftThe award recognizes a CCA who delivers exceptional customer service, is highly innovative, shows leadership, and contributes substantially to the exchange of ideas and transfer of agronomic knowledge.Watters was recognized at the Commodity Classic on Feb. 28. He will also be recognized at the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) Annual Meeting in November.“Growers and the fellow agronomists submit the nominations. We are proud to honor Watters on a stage surrounded by those individuals,” said Luther Smith, Director of Certification. “His contributions highlight the many science-informed decisions applied to agriculture.”Watters’ work as an associate professor in Extension at The Ohio State University puts him at the center of a communication hub. Weekly newsletters, monthly columns, field days, academic papers, and presentations at various conferences are part of his repertoire. Experimentation on the 400-acre university research farm (and informally on Watters’ own 200-acre farm) gives growers confidence.In Ohio, growers with more than 50 acres need to be certified in fertilizer application — a training Watters helped spearhead. Approximately 17,600 producers were trained in four whirlwind years to comply with new Ohio legislation. In addition, employees at more than 40 retail locations were certified in the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program (right source of nutrients, at the right rate and right time, in the right place).These opportunities don’t stop at the state line for Watters. Over the last six years, he’s taken his agronomic expertise to Ukraine through a USAID program.“I’ve learned in Ukraine that you’ve got to ask good questions. Find out what are the limitations. Is it something to do with economics, or equipment? It’s made me a better observer here at home,” Watters said. “We’re all in this together. I don’t expect the U.S. alone is going to be able to feed the world. If they have capacity in Ukraine, Argentina, or Brazil, we need to work together and share the knowledge. We all need to do better, including here.”Watters has been a CCA and Certified Professional Agronomist (CPAg) since 1994. He has been active in the CCA community since.  He served on the Ohio and North Central Boards and Continuing Education Committee and as a mentor in the undergraduate Greenfield Scholars program. Ohio State and Wilmington College students may recognize him for his campus visits to promote the CCA program and pre-exam training seminars.Becoming a CCA requires hours of study and a focus on providing the latest science-based advice to growers. Most CCAs continue to develop their skills and knowledge throughout their careers for the betterment of growers and agriculture.The ICCA of the Year Award consists of hotel and travel expenses to both meetings, $2,000 honorarium, a commemorative plaque, and a one-year membership in ASA. The award celebrates a level of proficiency that belongs to an individual and not to a company.ICCA is the largest, most recognized agriculture certification program in North America. Its professional standards are widely respected by industry, academia, and government. For more information on ICCA, visit read more