Crop Modification Techniques Infographic

To help educate people about the many methods that are used to generate new traits in plants, Biology Fortified has created an infographic on six different crop modification techniques, with examples of crops generated with each method. This infographic was made by Layla Katiraee together with Karl Haro von Mogel and we hope that it will be the first of many graphics that Biology Fortified will develop to help people understand and relate to the science! This post provides the references and a brief explanation on each technique, along with downloads in multiple formats.


Dietary delivery of small RNAs: Has the worm turned?

“You are what you eat,” as the saying goes, which serves for some as a guide to healthy eating. Even the field of nutrition appreciates the literal nature of this adage: as our bodies renew aging cells, our diets provide the necessary building blocks to repair and maintain them. We need basic nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for proper development and to maintain our health, but what about small RNA molecules? There is a growing interest in small RNAs because they regulate the expression of genes in living organisms, and are not only present in our food to begin with but are also being tested in genetically engineered crops to create useful traits. While experimental biologists have used dietary small RNAs to exert regulatory changes in worms for decades, few scientists would recognize small RNAs as nutrients. Several recent reports by Baier et al. and Zhou et al. (see references 1,

Buckwheat vs Mix seed

Monoculture vs. Polyculture Part II

“Straight up” beats “cocktails” for cover crop ecosystem services Cover crop mixtures, known as “cocktails” by some, are being promoted as having benefits over cover crops planted as monocultures. As I described in Part I, I reviewed recent research results to get at the answer to the question, “are monocultures or polycultures better when it comes to cover crops?” I found that, for biomass production at least, monocultures were actually best. Now, let’s look at other services provided by cover crops and compare polycultures and monocultures. (See an explanation of monocultures, polycultures, overyielding and transgressive overyielding in my post Ecological Theories, Meta-Analysis, and the Benefits of Monocultures.)

Do ecological theories natural biodiversity apply to cover crop polycultures?  Photos left to right: A. Losi & A. McGuire.

Monoculture vs. Polyculture Part I

“Straight up” beats “cocktails” for cover crop productivity Planting cover crop mixtures is very popular right now. The practice has a feel-good aspect about it and, buoyed by the ecological theory, it fits with the current “mimic nature” strategy of agroecologists. In Mixing the Perfect Cover Crop Cocktail I demonstrated how difficult it is to do research on cover crop mixtures. Although difficult, there are intrepid researchers investigating this practice so I decided to see what they were finding. The results call into question the value of cover crop mixtures, as in many situations a monoculture cover crop would both produce more biomass and provide other desired services as well.


Why don’t farmers save seeds?

Until recently, I never put too much thought into where farmers get the seeds that they grow into the foods we eat. I assumed they saved seeds from their previous crop. I thought this would give the farmer more control over his or her operation and save money. I presumed that if a farmer chose to buy seeds, they would do so out of convenience. In reality, most farmers buy new seeds every year because of genetics! Now I know, and to help people understand the scientific rationale of purchasing new seeds every year, a group of young scientists, including myself, made a short video. In the video, we describe what hybrid plants are, and their benefits to agriculture. We illustrate what would happen if a farmer kept and grew the seeds produced by the hybrid plants.   The video was made by UC Davis scientists Jenna Gallegos (graduate student),