How can life sciences
provide added value from agrobiodiversity?
biodiversity: Helping crops to feed themselves
crops are of great importance throughout the developing
world, providing a valuable source of protein in the human
diet as well as animal fodder and pollen for honey production.
However, they are also key assets for sustainable agriculture,
thanks to their root nodules.
These nodules contain bacteria called rhizobia, which fix
atmospheric nitrogen, making it available to the plant.
One consequence of this is a reduction in the need for nitrogen
fertilisers. China is a region of particularly high rhizobial
diversity and this natural resource remains poorly explored
and under exploited.
A European Commission-funded project (INCO programme) focused
on the characterisation of Chinese rhizobial resources,
matching plant and rhizobial strains, identifying compatibility
markers and improving the quality of rhizobial inoculants
for agricultural use.
Nitrogen fixation: Giving a boost to Brazilian bean crops
Soybean was introduced into Brazil over a hundred
years ago and that country has now become the second largest
producer in the world. French beans are also widely grown
there, contributing about 28% of the protein eaten by the
Brazilian soils did not originally contain the bacteria
required for root nodule formation on these crops, so they
had to be introduced in the form of inoculants prepared
as seed coating agents.
Efforts to adapt rhizobial bacteria to Brazilian conditions
began in the 1960s and the continuous selection of more
efficient and competitive strains and of plants with higher
nitrogen-fixing capacity is essential if high yields are
to be maintained and increased.
The European Commission has funded a research project –
‘Exploiting the biodiversity of rhizobia for the sustainable
improvement of common bean crops in South America’
– that aims to do just that.
Fisheries: Building and sharing knowledge to maintain marine
have always relied on the sea as a supply of plentiful and
healthy food. As world population grows and modern technology
is harnessed to fish for massive catches, it is now possible
to exhaust stocks. A project involving scientists from around
the world has produced modelling analysis that shows the
impact of fisheries on a variety of tropical ecosystems.
The results can be used to inform management strategies
for sustainable fisheries.
Researchers from 31 institutes in Africa, Europe, and the
Americas came together to work on the EU-ACP Concerted Action
project – ‘Placing fisheries resources in their
ecosystem context: cooperation, comparison, and human impact’
– to learn how to use a computer modelling tool called
Ecopath and to share in the information it provides.
Ecopath software has been around for more than a decade,
and it has developed to become the de facto standard
for ecosystem modelling of marine systems. Up to now, work
mainly centred on marine ecosystems in temperate areas as
well as in South East Asia. Its use in Latin America and
Africa through this research project represents a major
step forward for the introduction of an ecosystem approach