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Scientists Crack the Genetic Code of the Hass Avocado
By Lindsay Campbell
If you're a sucker for a good avocado, an even better one could be on the way.
Scientists from Mexico's National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, Texas Tech University and the University at Buffalo have cracked the genetic code of the popular Hass avocado.
They say this DNA discovery provides foundational information to improve the future of farming and possibly create a new version of the fruit with many more sought after qualities.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America this month, concludes that the Hass avocado is a cross between 61 percent of Mexican avocado genes and 39 percent of Guatemalan ones.
The Hass's considerable fatty acid content and ability to resist some diseases are derived from the Mexican avocado says Luis Herrera-Estrella, a leading scientist of the study.
Its larger size and harder exterior comes from the Guatemalan breed, he added.
The Hass avocado, curated in the 1920's by California horticulturalist Rudolph Hass, makes up 95 percent of all avocados eaten in the U.S.
To get to this genetic finding, scientists carefully collected Hass avocado leaves from a farm 100km away from their lab, extracted the DNA from the leaves and then used specialized technology and procedures to sequence the genome.
Herrera-Estrella said specific genes that stick out in the Hass variety will allow for more precise breeding programs.
"You can isolate a specific gene with fungal resistance or fatty acid content or fatty acid quality and then you can select what value in these genes are the good traits for the one you want," he said. "In that way you can selectively breed all the characteristics you want, without doing it in a blind way as it was done before."
He adds, that it will be particularly helpful to breed because of the avocados long life cycle.
The fruit takes anywhere from six to eight years to get from seed to seed, which makes its difficult to cultivate new varieties in a traditional sense.
Knowing and being able to tag the specific genes, which allows for picking characteristics for a new breed, speeds up the process instead of having to wait until the plant is fully mature to determine what genes are there.
Potential farming improvements, such as genetically manufacturing a smaller tree than current 30-40 meter ones, could be made after now knowing the avocado's genome, Herrera-Estrella added.
"Having smaller trees that can be planted in a higher density in a farm would help make the harvesting more effective and less dangerous for the people who are working in the farms," he said.
Victor Albert, another scientist and author of the study who worked alongside Herrera-Estrella notes that knowing the genome of the Hass will be more helpful in curating a fruit that adapts to climate change.
While the Hass does have some genes that promote disease resistance, it's not as strong as it could be, he said.
"Very little has been done with the avocado to improve its growth properties or disease resistance," Albert said. " Our genome sequences will aid breeders in identifying and using genetic knowledge of drought resistance that will be very useful as growing conditions become hotter and dryer."
Although both scientists maintain study findings are significant, it's only a building block for more important research discoveries to come.
Herrera-Estrella says that the next step for scientific study will be to study 800 types of avocados and attempt to sequence their genetic material.
"That's a huge project so we can know what the genetic difference is between all the different types … and provide information to build off of the breeding processes," he said.
He adds that while Mexico is currently a top breeder of the avocado, it would be beneficial for the country to take the information in this paper and use it to maintain that status.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jennifer Molidor, PhD
Climate change, habitat loss and pollution are overwhelming our planet. Thankfully, these enormous threats are being met by a bold new wave of environmental activism.
Trump Makes Strange Claim About Water Efficient Toilets: 'People Are Flushing Toilets 10 Times, 15 Times'
President Donald Trump mocked water-efficiency standards in new constructions last week. Trump said, "People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times, as opposed to once. They end up using more water. So, EPA is looking at that very strongly, at my suggestion." Trump asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a federal review of those standards since, he claimed with no evidence, that they are making bathrooms unusable and wasting water, as NBC News reported.
By Carey Gillam
Former Monsanto Chairman and CEO Hugh Grant will have to testify in person at a St. Louis-area trial set for January in litigation brought by a cancer-stricken woman who claims her disease was caused by exposure to the company's Roundup herbicide and that Monsanto covered up the risks instead of warning consumers.
A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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