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Central Americans save plant diversity through local cultivations

In a refreshing twist, humans have been shown to be part of the solution to the issue of decreasing genetic diversity in our world rather than part of the problem. Global genetic diversity is being eradicated through any number of human-driven activities, the removal of large scale forests key among them.

Now Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis report that farmers and families in Central America actually have saved genetic variation in the jocote (ho-CO-tay), (Spondias purpurea), a small tree that bears fruit similar to a tiny mango. And they've done this by taking the plants out of the forest, their wild habitat, and growing them close to home for family and local consumption.

Allison Miller, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, and former graduate student at Washington University, and Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology Barbara Schaal, Ph.D., from Washington University, in conjunction with Peter Raven, Ph.D. Engelmann Professor of Botany and Director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, have shown multiple domestications of the jocote in Central America in the midst of large-scale deforestation, a practice that endangers genetic diversity .

Weeding out genetic diversity

One effect of modern-day agriculture is the eradication of genetic diversity, as growers select hardy plants that grow vigorously, and continually "weed out" genetic diversity through the selection process.

"Many of the crops are so highly domesticated that they don't have much genetic variation, and we are kind of looking at them after they've been highly domesticated and produced these elite varieties," Schaal explained.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (2005, Aug. 26; ), Miller identifies the various wild and cultivated jocote species and indicates that cultivation of the jocote has preserved genetic diversity. Genetic diversity has been estimated to have decreas
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Contact: Tony Fitzpatrick
tony_fitzpatrick@wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
9-Nov-2005


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