Friday, 17 August 2018

bran and chaff

The fact that the genetic code of rice and maize were mapped in 2002 and 2009 respectively and the wheat genome is just now being puzzled out is not a comment on the staple crop’s importance—both culturally and agriculturally, but rather testament to advances in computational power pitted against an incredibly complex blue-print that is magnitudes larger than human DNA (three billion base pairs as opposed to sixteen billion in a cell of wheat) and is composed of six copies of each chromosome (hexaploid) compared to diploid humans (XY, XX).
One wonders how much fourteen-thousand years of farming contributed to that complicated pedigree and how much was driven by natural forces.  Equipped with this more complete picture and an understanding behind the mechanism and orientation of how certain traits are expressed, after careful research and deliberation (the worst trade-offs are the ones we don’t see coming) scientists hope to be able to select for adaptable cultivars that can withstand a hotter, drier climate or varieties that don’t require pesticides or fertiliser, like this indigenous Mexican corn that can fix its own nitrogen from the air. Other applications could yield wheat-based products that are more nutritious and palatable for people with intolerance to it.