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Plant genes

8 July 2010

www.physorg.com/print197739400.html is a story about how it is thought the wild grass teosinte developed into corn (maize). Experiments in domestication have shown it is possible that domestic plants took fewer than 20 generations to take place – a very short space of time. This appears to contradict the archaeology and this article is a bit of a fight-back by palaeo-botanists against geneticists. It is possible that a lot of the certainty currently assigned to genetics may in the fullness of time lose some of its gloss – and this is another one of those problems with the simplistic approach that is causing problems in another branch of science. Palaeo-botanists favour a longer period of time – and this appears to be supported by the archaeology (or interpretations thereof).

Meanwhile, at www.physorg.com/print197720560.html there are apparently countless thousands of undiscovered plant species facing extinction as a result of habitat loss and global warming – according to a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. I imagine it is necessary to include the global warming element otherwise the Royal Society might be miffed as it is primarily habitat loss that the paper draws attention to – rising global populations and growth in towns, cities, farms etc. Of course, none of these species are ‘unknown’ in the strict sense – it is simply that western science has not catalogued them. Interestingly, the lead author came from Microsoft Research in Cambridge and unsurprisingly we have a computer calculation at the heart of things. The hypothesis is there could be between 5 and 50 million species but only 2 million of these have been recorded by scientists (or botanists) – and we may wonder why the computer model has such a vacuous set of goalposts, namely a gaping hole between 5 and 50 million.

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