Ants have been farming for far longer than humans have existed. They discovered fungus farming around fifty or sixty million years ago in the wet rainforests of South America, and have continued tending their underground fungus gardens through countless years as the planet changed and changed, and changed again. Much more recently — just a few years ago — I wrote about the fungus-farming ants (called “attine ants”), trying to imagine how they might view human agriculture. Our imaginary attine author closed with the hope that studying humans might help the attines understand their own history, “such as how the transition from primitive to advanced agriculture occured in our own ancestors”, and now a study by a group of humans has shed light on that very question. Continue reading
In a really neat piece of work based around a remarkably simple bit of engineering and some textbook genetics, a team of scientists has found a way to regenerate a plant’s parents through breeding — a technique they call “reverse breeding”. This clever bit of research, which is described in a paper appearing in Nature Genetics, should be applicable to a wide range of crop species, opening up the possibility of significant advances in crop improvement and breeding programmes.