Scientists at the World Vegetable Center in Taiwan are looking to the wild
relatives of domesticated crops - such as eggplant - to save the human diet
from climate change. Domesticated plants, despite their advantages, have
some weaknesses. They are not as sturdy as many of their wild relatives when
it comes to resisting diseases, drought, and other challenges. They also do
not have the genetic diversity that allows wild populations to ride it out -
all the individuals are so similar that what kills one, kills them all.
The World Vegetable Center has collected 89 new wild varieties of eggplant,
which will be grown in the Center in the coming years. The idea is that when
the researchers find a plant that can stand up to a pest or keep producing
despite changes in temperature, they will breed that wild variety with a
standard, domesticated crop variety. If they manage to get a hybrid, they
will keep refining it over the course of many generations.
Geneticist Jaime Prohens and his research group, in collaboration with the
University of Valencia in Spain, have already forged ahead, using wild
eggplant relatives from gene banks. Prohens' team has already managed to get
fertile hybrid plants from many crosses and, with some lab work, coaxed
seeds from a few others. These will mix eggplant genes in new ways, and the
most interesting specimens have arrived at the Center, where they will be
evaluated for resistance to pests.