Mixing It Up with Wild Cousins

Farming is all about inbreeding. At least the kind of large scale crop farming in the United States that yields bigger potatoes and heartier nuts.

This is a problem. Not because it's gross--personally, I love the ease and cheapness of big flaky potatoes and crunchy nuts. It is a problem because we are engineering weak plants. Selection for mass produced plants with similar traits leaves crops vulnerable to disease and the stresses of a changing climate.  Normally, plant engineers fix these vulnerabilities by dipping into wild species and taking out genes that correct weakness. Climate change may make such a quick fix difficult, because a recent study predicted more than a tenth of wild potato species and more than half of wild peanut species may become extinct over the next 50 years as a result of warming temperatures.

Scientists are trying to identify those species that need help so the seeds can be preserved and habitat can be conserved. This will keep the possibility open for domesticates to be bred with their wild cousins, allowing future generations to be stronger and healthier.

Mixing it up with a cousin never sounded so good.

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