Virginia Gewin

All seed stories were reported in 2016 with funding from the Alicia Patterson fellowship.

Making Seeds to Withstand Climate Change is Getting Harder
Negotiations to strengthen an international treaty to develop hardier crops fell apart this month.

November 25, 2019
Global hunger and malnutrition are on the rise, as are temperatures and water shortages. Humanity must adapt crops to the changing climate by breeding hardier plants, but political and commercial interests continue to stymie those efforts.
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Crowdsourcing seeds can help farmers adapt to climate change

February 29, 2019
In Ethiopia and other developing nations, scientists are working with small-scale farmers on trials to see which seed varieties perform best in changing conditions. These initiatives are enabling farmers to make smarter crop choices in the face of rising temperatures, drought, and more extreme weather.
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Ancient crops find new life

March 3, 2017
Feeding the world sustainably–and nutritiously–may require crops that most people have never heard of.
Amidst the heat, humidity, and palms in this unquestionably tropical landscape sit three huge, aluminum-paneled domes—their bright slats beating back the relentless sun, while fresh air circulates around the shaded buildings inside...
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A wild label aims to find and preserve rare cacao in the Amazon

Washington Post
Nov. 3, 2016
Mark Christian doesn’t mince words when it comes to chocolate. Biting criticism is stock and trade for the New Yorker who seven years ago launched the C-Spot, an independent online guide to premium chocolate that boasts it is “the most hated voice in the industry.” Yet after 2,500 reviews, Christian now wants consumers to take a flavor journey. He is eager to find and preserve pockets of wild chocolate flavor in the Amazon rain forest, where cacao originated, before they disappear... 
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Re-wilding the Banana

Nov. 3, 2016
In central mainland Malaysia, as the cleared oil palm plantations are readied for a new crop, decaying fronds litter rolling hills of rust-colored soils. Amid the detritus, a verdant wild banana clump sits in a nearby roadside ditch. The six-foot long leaves shiver as Anuar Rasyidi emerges drenched in sweat, his machete in one hand and a decaying stalk of tiny fruit in the other. Passersby would never guess that the seeds within these bananas are on a global most-wanted list...
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The Other Cannabis

Dec. 21, 2016
Even in Colorado, breeding hemp means grappling with all sorts of legal red tape. One plant biologist hopes to beat the odds.

Bear Reel cuts a tiny figure on the vast Colorado plains, but she lives up to her name in ferocity of spirit. She has to. The 34-year-old occupies a decidedly unorthodox niche: a 21st-century scientist breeding new varieties of an ancient plant that’s also a controlled substance...
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Rice rewrites slaves agricultural heritage

Jan. 12, 2017
Did slaves contribute more than solely their labor to the success of rice plantations in the New World? In pursuit of the answer, one researcher is extracting little bits of memoir trapped inside rice grains.

When Tinde van Andel purchased a small bag of unmilled rice from a market in Paramaribo, Suriname, she had no idea it would offer a novel peek into slavery’s past. The Dutch ethnobotanist, currently based at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, Netherlands, was in Suriname in 2006 to inventory medicinal and ritual plants for her postdoctoral research. She found a capital city market buzzing with hundreds of Maroon women selling herbal medicines and ritual plants, including rice...
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Climate Change Adds Urgency To Push to Save World's Seeds

April 21, 2016
During the 872-day German siege of Leningrad in World War II, in which an estimated 1.1 million civilians died, a small band of workers devoted themselves to safeguarding a priceless trove of 200,000 seeds at the Institute of Plant Industry. Then the world’s largest seed bank, the collection had been amassed, in large part, by famed Soviet botanist Nikolai Vavilov during expeditions to 64 countries...
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Wild relatives of key crops not protected in genebanks, study finds

Mar. 21, 2016
The wild, sometimes scraggly cousins of grains and vegetables have a role to play in food security, but urgent action is needed to conserve them, says a new study published today in Nature Plnats. The first global survey of the distribution and conservation of 1076 wild relatives of 81 crops finds that more than 95% are insufficiently safeguarded in the world’s gene banks, which store seeds and other plant tissues that can be used for future breeding efforts....
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Crop gene banks are preserving the future of agriculture. But who's preserving them?

May 21, 2015
During the past few years of civil war in Syria, rebel fighters have destroyed Shia mosques and Christian graves, and burned and looted Christian churches while the Islamic State group has demolished priceless artifacts in the region. Nothing seemed sacred to the disparate groups vying for control of the region. Yet, so far, a store of ancient seeds has been left alone...
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