When scientists from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research in Germany sequenced the genome of barley, they were thinking primarily about the impact on food. Understanding the genetics behind certain traits could help us breed barley varieties that have built-in resistance against disease, or that contain more fiber. (Contrary to popular understanding, there's actually a lot of overlap between what we might think of as genetic engineering and what we might think of as breeding. Crop researchers can use genome maps to select specific plants to cross pollinate, enabling them to reliably breed a trait into a new variety much faster than was previously possible.)
But, this is barley. And we don't just eat barley. With this plant, sequencing the genome also has implications for the way we brew beer. At Popular Science, Martha Harbison explains what we're learning about barley's genetic code and why it matters in beer making. In particular, she says it's significant that the researchers sequenced the genomes of more than one variety of barley.
Why should aspiring homebrewers care? Because two-row and six-row barley behave slightly differently in the mash, which can have profound effects on brewing efficiency and characteristics of the finished beer (a complex phenomenon I'll get into in a future column). I figured anyone nerdulent enough to want to know about genetic differences of cultivars would be curious as to which kind of barley was used in the single-nucleotide-variation study.
Read the rest of the story at Popular Science
You can read more about the surprisingly complex world of plant breeding in two articles I wrote — one for Popular Science, and one for Discover.
Image: Beers and Glassware, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from cambridgebrewingcompany's photostream
Quindar is a fantastically far out project to remix NASA’s weird and wonderful sound and film archives into a new audiovisual experience of electronic music and video cut-ups. Created by my friends Mikael Jorgensen of Wilco and art historian/curator James Merle Thomas, Quindar’s recordings and live performances are a wonderful hyperreal trip into the human […]
The EVO evolution webshop offers this fantastic flipbook of human evolution. It’s €7.50. (via /r/educationalgifs)
It’s been years since the major pharma companies agreed to participate in the Registry of All Trials, meaning that they’d end the practice of only reporting on trials whose outcomes they were pleased with, leaving about half of all trials unreported-on.
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