A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
Mr William Wigmore
Mr Adelino S. Lorens
Dr Lois Englberger
Mr Apisai Ucuboi
Dr Maurice Wong
Mr Tianeti Beenna Ioane
Mr Frederick Muller
Mr Herman Francisco
Ms Rosa Kambuou
Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
Mr Frazer Bule Lehi
Interested in GIS?
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Posted 3:21 PM by Tevita
Satisfying Your Ancestral Appetite
From: Catherine Zandonella, M.P.H National Geogrpahic - The Green Guide
My daughter inherited the luminous blue eyes and ash-blonde hair of her Slavic father. Like her northern Italian-Scottish mother, spicy foods make her tummy hurt. Our genes shape not only how we look but also how we respond to foods.
Researchers are taking an active interest in how genes and diet influence our susceptibility to obesity and diseases like diabetes and cancer. Eating a diet that is right for an individual's genetic heritage can be healthier, they are finding. For example, about one-fifth of people of European descent have a genetic modification that puts them at increased risk of cardiovascular disease if they don't consume enough dietary folate.
A return to a traditional diet rich in plant foods and low in added sodium, sugars and saturated fats may also help us maintain a healthy weight and stave off heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions. And a genetically appropriate diet possesses advantages beyond maintaining your health: It can help ensure the survival of indigenous food plants and preserve traditional farming practices.
For millennia, people ate only plants or animals from their surroundings. As a result, we carry differences in our genes that permit us to digest and obtain nutrients from foods. For a simple example, look no further than milk. With the exception of people of European and African descent, most people cannot digest milk beyond infancy because the body stops producing lactase, an enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar, lactose. Europeans, however, acquired the ability to produce this enzyme into adulthood after they began keeping cattle about 7,500 years ago. Those that could digest milk survived lean times. African cattle herders separately developed and passed this trait to subsequent generations.
"We have dozens of diet experts offering us a quick fix as if all of us have the same nutritional and health needs," says Gary Paul Nabhan, Ph.D., ethnobotanist and author of Why Some Like It Hot: Food, Genes and Cultural Diversity (Island Press, 2004, $24) and a co-founder of the indigenous-seed conservation organization Native Seeds/SEARCH. In reality, says Nabhan, "We all have different nutritional needs, and our ancestries are one of the factors that shapes that."
The devastating health effects of drastically changed eating habits within native populations demonstrate just how important ancestral diets are. Among the Pima Indians of Arizona, half of adults suffer from type 2 diabetes, the highest rate found in any population worldwide. Nabhan thinks that something in the genetic makeup of southwestern Native Americans makes them more susceptible to developing diabetes.
This susceptibility is linked not only to what desert-dwelling native populations are eating, Nabhan suspects, but to what they are no longer eating. Their traditional diet was rich in fibrous, drought-resistant plants, such as prickly pear cactus, that resulted in a very slow increase in blood sugar. Perhaps, Nabhan suggests, those indigenous peoples, who were genetically adapted to metabolize slow-release foods, are less able than people of European descent to handle the rapid elevation of blood sugar caused by today's processed foods.
Just as drought-resistant plants are right for desert dwellers, a meat-based diet appears to sit well with peoples who evolved in cold climates. Evenki reindeer herders in Russia derive almost half their calories from meat, more than twice the amount consumed by the average American. Yet Evenki men are leaner and have cholesterol levels that are 30 percent lower than the levels of American men, found William Leonard, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Northwestern University. It turns out that the meat from reindeer and other free-ranging animals is less fatty, and lower in saturated fats, than meat from cattle and other feedlot animals. What's more, these herders appear to have a naturally higher metabolic rate, in which genes play a role, than American males, Leonard says.
More evidence for the gene-nutrient influence on disease comes from studies on the benefits of traditional diet and lifestyle among Native Hawaiians, who suffer some of the highest mortality rates from diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease in the U.S. Native Hawaiians who returned to eating a diet rich in their ancestral foods, including sweet potatoes, seaweed and their staple crop taro—a root vegetable loaded with fiber, vitamins and slow-release sugars—reduced their cholesterol and incidence of heart disease.
The loss of traditional foodstuffs, however, is making it harder for native peoples to keep to their time-honored diets. In Hawaii, streams that once watered the taro fields were diverted to irrigate sugarcane and pineapple. Fortunately, in some locations, efforts are being made to encourage the preservation of traditional agricultural practices and the planting of native crops. For example, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, a grassroots effort has volunteers rerouting irrigation streams to the taro fields and planting the nutritious crop. In the Southwest, Nabhan and others are banking and distributing seeds of indigenous crops through Native Seeds/SEARCH. Worldwide, the Global Crop Diversity Trust is building a seed bunker on a remote Norwegian island, a sort of "Noah's Ark" for the world's indigenous seeds.
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