Wild about grains and global warming

This makes me wonder, since most of the world’s food supply is from cultivated grains, as opposed to wild ones, and since yields have been increasing thanks to selective breeding programs, fertilizer use, and better farming practices, where’s the problem?

From the University of Haifa, Wild cereals threatened by global warming:

wild-emmer-wheat-smallWheats and barleys are the staple food for humans and animal feed around the world, and their wild progenitors have undergone genetic changes over the last 28 years that imply a risk for crop improvement and food production, reveals a new study. “The earliness in flowering time and genetic changes that are taking place in these important progenitor wild cereals, most likely due to global warming, can negatively affect the wild progenitors. These changes could thereby indirectly deteriorate food production,” says Prof. Eviatar Nevo of the Insitute of Evolution at the University of Haifa who directed the study.

Wheats are the universal cereals of Old World agriculture.The progenitors, wild emmer wheat and wild barley, which originated in the Near East, provide the genetic basis for ameliorating wheat and barley cultivars, which as earlier studies have shown, are themselves under constant genetic erosion and increasing susceptibility to environmental stresses.

The new study set out to examine whether the wild cereal progenitors are undergoing evolutionary changes due to climate change that would impact future food production. It was was headed by Prof. Nevo, along with Dr. Yong-Bi Fu from Canada, and Drs.Beiles, Pavlicek and Tavasi, and Miss Khalifa from the University of Haifa’s Institute of Evolution, and recently published in the prestigious scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS).

Ten wild emmer wheat and ten wild barley populations from different climates and habitats across Israel were sampled first in 1980 and then again at the same sites in 2008 and grown in a common greenhouse. The results indicated that over the relatively short period of 28 years, all 20 wild cereal populations examined, without exception, showed a dramatic change in flowering time. All populations sampled in 2008 flowered, on average, about 10 days earlier than those sampled in 1980. “These cereal progenitors are adapting their time of flowering to escape the heat,” Prof. Nevo explains. The study also found that the genetic diversity of the 2008 sample is for the most part significantly reduced, but some new drought-adapted variants appeared that could be used for crop improvement. “The ongoing global warming in Israel is the only likely factor that could have caused earliness in flowering and genetic turnover across the range of wild cereals in Israel. This indicates that they are under environmental stress which may erode their future survival,” says Prof. Nevo. “Multiple effects of the global warming phenomenon have been observed in many species of plants and animals,” he adds. “But this study is pioneering in showing its infuence on flowering and genetic changes in wild cereals. These changes threaten the best genetic resource for crop improvement and thereby may damage food production.”

A number of species did show positive adaptive changes resulting from global warming, such as earliness in flowering or migration into cooler regions. “But overall,” says Prof. Nevo, “the genetic resources of these critical wild cereals are undergoing rapid erosion – and cannot be dismissed as a concern for future generations. Wild emmer wheat is the world’s most important genetic resource for wheat improvement, and it is up to us to preserve it. We are utilizing our gene bank at the Institute of Evolution for transforming genes of interest to the crop. However, a much more extensive effort needs to be made to keep the natural populations thriving, by preventing urbanization and global warming from eliminating them”.

[UPDATE] I trust Anthony won’t mind my expanding on this a bit.

Man, I hate garbage studies like this. I go to look at the temperatures they are using. Of course it’s paywalled, but the Supplementary Online Information (SOI) is here. Figure S4 in the SOI shows the temperatures that they used.

There are several strange things about this figure. One is that the title says “Fig. S4. The mean annual temperatures over nine stations in Israel (Source: Goldreich 2010),” but the left axis says “Mean (min temp.) deg.”. Which is it? Well, I went to look at the GISS data, and near as I can tell … it’s neither. Here’s what GISS has for Jerusalem, versus what they say:

Note that the temperatures according to GISS are about two degrees cooler than according to Nevo et al. Also, GISS never heard of most of those sites, and has very, very different values for the sites in common, with different years missing and much less data. For example, the R2 between their Jerusalem data and the GISS data shown above is a pathetic 0.25 … Why? I haven’t a clue.

Shabby, shabby work. Their figures don’t even agree with themselves, much less with external data.

w.

 

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All populations sampled in 2008 flowered, on average, about 10 days earlier than those sampled in 1980. “These cereal progenitors are adapting their time of flowering to escape the heat,”

That or taking advantage of the longer growing season. 1980, of course, was the last “local minimum” when the PDO flipped positive.

However, a much more extensive effort needs to be made to keep the natural populations thriving, by preventing urbanization and global warming from eliminating them”

I’m not clear how preventing urbanization keeps populations thriving. In the US, suburbia is not good terrain for wild grains. Perhaps he meant to reduce the urban population without increasing it elsewhere. A new dimension to the climate change wars….

“most likely due to global warming,”
If I had made such an assertion and left it dangling unsupported, as Prof. Nevo has done above, I would have been sent packing from my PhD defence. Or from any of the journals to which I submitted work for publication. This kind of assertion, however, runs rampant in the climate meme department, and is the major difference I see in ‘science’ over the last twenty years or so. What makes it “most likely”? The answer to that question is completely absent, and, unfortunately the most central to the issue, yet Nevo escapes through the back door without the slightest hint of an explanation. I honestly can’t figure out how people get away with stuff like this…yes, pal review, yadda yadda, but how??

OMG. Occam & I say the likely cause of earlier flowering is a genetic trigger that responds to warmth and other correlates of the start of growing season. Some funding agency(cies) has (have) FAR too much money to burn (probably rushing to spend everything before budget y/e).
Flimsy, pathetic junk in print.

Robert Schapiro

This article is ridiculous. To suggest that global warming is now wiping out ancient grains misses a glaring point – The climate is always changing from glacial to interglacial periods and any species that can’t adapt to these changes would have disappeared a long time ago. So how did these grains get to be ancient? Obviously by adapting! Earlier flowering is a perfect adaption to the warmer climate that ended a decade ago. No doubt the next 28 years will reveal a return to late flowering which will panic a new crop of pseudo scientists all over again.

So, we have an example of plants in a narrow geographic region adapting (evolving?) to weather patterns (and arguably, changing climatic conditions) and the Institute of Evolution is worried about genes not remaining static? Did they compare historical gene differences from other warm periods or do they assume that these plants have not evolved or their evolution has ceased? If wild grain genetic material were that important, I’m sure folks would be cultivating it and storing the seeds.

Ian W

So if we are to understand things correctly, a very small change in temperature has led to flowering times 10 days earlier over ~30 years? Perhaps this may be a reaction to changes in the comparative frequencies in sunlight such as the changes in ultra-violet. Surely, the fact that these changes have been so fast though is more likely to be epigenetic than genetic? 30 years is only 30 generations which unless there was a mass ‘die off’ would not appear to allow a large genetic change.

Nerd

The interesting thing about GMO wheat is that they may be worse than the original ones for our health. http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/saturated-fat/wheat-belly/ For people with heart disease or/and diabetes, wheat flour based foods are the worst ones to eat…

ozspeaksup

PNAS must have had need of page filler. calling this research?
every plant in my garden changes time of sprouting yearly, the overnight temps and rain etc all have a bearing.
the heat claim will take a beating right now.
snow in Damascus lebanon etc gore must be nearby?
and funny how the GM green revolution crowd forced farmers to ditch their OLD heritage grains to grow hybrid hidependency fertiliser etc crops.
so they lost heaps of seriously good genetic stock for the greed of corporations.
and now those same companies TAKE natural hardy adapted grains to tinker and claim as their own.

Chuck L

I’d say this study is on par with the one that suggests man will get smaller as a result of global warming.
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/02/23/they-shrink-horses-dont-they/
And my reaction today is the same as it was then:
Really?

To all above, except Ian W., who gets it, there is no need or justification to invoke “adapting” or “evolving”. An internal trigger, as I posted above, that responds to regionally relevant clues and cues is far more parsimonious and likely.
If anything, evolutionary pressure is currently reinforcing the survival value of that trigger.

Evan Jones

Where is Lysenko when you need him?

Oldseadog

Here in Falkirk my snowdrops have flowered about a week later than four years ago, and it has been milder this winter than the last two.
Maybe they are reacting to the weather.
Or the climate.
Or the rainfall.
Where can I apply to for a research grant?

Steve Keohane

I don’t see the warming in Israel*, Eliat:
http://climate.unur.com/ghcn-v2/622/40199-zoomed.png
Y-axis is 10-60°C
*Maybe it’s the tele-connected ‘Global Warming’ that is causing the effects they see. /sarc

mwhite

“which as earlier studies have shown, are themselves under constant genetic erosion and increasing susceptibility to environmental stresses.”
Yet they have survived several million years worth of glacial to interglacial climaticc shifts.

d

“These changes could thereby indirectly deteriorate food production” is my favorite line. “Could”, “may” , ” most likely due too”, are all over this article. Just one more example of how anyone can make money if you do any “research” on global warming

dtbronzich

Everyone has brought up great points so far. This isn’t a science paper, it’s an op/ed piece.
Israel is an awfully small region to select for a study on grain, and what about cross pollination with non native modern species? How do you find a pristine sample that hasn’t been modified by monsanto? This article speaks of “genetic erosion” but offers no proof, instead just launches into blooming times, a natural process unlinked to genetic damage……….This article is rubbish on many different levels. It’s a page 4e column filler in a local paper.

kelly b

“Ten wild emmer wheat and ten wild barley populations from different climates and habitats across Israel were sampled first in 1980 and then again at the same sites in 2008 and grown in a common greenhouse.”
what about the grains still in the “wild”

DirkH

Brian H says:
February 26, 2012 at 5:41 am
“To all above, except Ian W., who gets it, there is no need or justification to invoke “adapting” or “evolving”. An internal trigger, as I posted above, that responds to regionally relevant clues and cues is far more parsimonious and likely. ”
Yes. The plant species have survived warm periods before. They have genetic programming genetic programs to handle that and activate it when needed.

Prof. Nevo writes “most likely due to global warming”
Shades of Tom Lehrer’s Vatican Rag. “First you get down on your knees,…………and Genuflec, Genuflec, Genuflec, Gebuflec.”

As a scientist who has been a reviewer for major publications, I would have rejected this paper for a variety of reasons. Poor science, poor writing. ‘Nuff said.

DirkH

I’m confused, the press release says some of the species undergo genetic erosion and a loss of genetic diversity. But the release doesn’t say how they found out. Did they sequence the genomes of the specimen? Did they check for epigenetic changes (methylation pattern)?

JP

One can make statistics fit their own way of thinking. Here in Northern Indiana or Southwest Michigan, one can look at any number of growing seasons the last 30 years where crops flowered late. Rainfall, as well as late spring frost are to blame. And even during periods of warmer weather during the planting season farmers many times are late getting their crops planted due to rains.
But the Upper Mississippi Valley isn’t the world. Perhaps we could look at the flowering of hop plants in Washington or the Hallertauer region of Bavaria. But, then again things like sunlight and precipitation can affect how quickly hop plants grow.
Finally, hybrid drought resistant grains grow very well under hot, dry conditions. But, all it takes is one severe late spring frost to destroy thousands of acres of wheat and barley fields. A cool, damps summer could also reduce their yields by as much as 30%.

commieBob

This calls for another study. 😉
What happened during previous warm periods (MWP for instance)? That which is happening now is not unprecedented. ie. If the grains are undergoing a genetic change due to global warming, the same thing probably happened during the MWP. If it didn’t, then we can’t blame any changes on warming per se.
What we do know is that genes move between domesticated plants and wild plants. If wild plants are undergoing rapid genetic change, it is likely that it is because of the local density of domestic grain.Wild Crop Relatives – Genomic and Breeding Resources: Oilseeds By Chittaranjan Kole

JP:
Not only those points you make, but also soil trace elemental composition grossly determines outcomes. For example, boron deficiency in soil, which is not replenished by fallowing or supplementation, will greatly influence yields. Essential elements such as magnesium are also rate limiting and influence growth and yield. There is no effort in the paper to assess total composition of soils to isolate these many variables. Not that they could, BTW. What happens when you have more variables than equations? As we have seen with the warm-earthers, very creative storytelling—nothing else.
Next we can mention co-existing organisms, beneficial and maleficent, such as nematodes and bacteria, that are parasitic, or symbiotic, or synergistic (e.g. nitrogen-fixing bacteria).
Next, I can imagine polar bears evolving wings so they can fly away from ice-free areas to Antarctica! I can imagine it, therefore it is possible! This is what I call iPod-Google Think.

Bill Illis

US Corn and Wheat prices going back to 1850 – nominal and real adjusted for CPI.
Wars have an influence, the Russian crop failures of the early 1970s cause a large increase, sometimes irrational exuberance takes over the market. Otherwise, technology is slowly driving the cost down in real inflation-adjusted terms. Not really much of a climate effect, maybe the 1930s.
http://img24.imageshack.us/img24/1465/cornwheatnominalprices1.png
http://img600.imageshack.us/img600/6817/cornwheatrealprices1850.png

More Soylent Green!

I guess the climate has always been the same, at least since these species of wild grains first appeared?

pat

He lost this case as soon as he introduced the “green house”.

Jere Krischel

The real problem is that humans shouldn’t be eating wheat.
http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/
Now, if we can use all that extra grain, and raise a bunch of healthy livestock (I know, grass fed cow is best), maybe we can convert the world to a healthy animal fat and protein diet.

commieBob

Jere Krischel says:
February 26, 2012 at 8:40 am
The real problem is that humans shouldn’t be eating wheat.

The author of Wheat Belly isn’t the only one saying we shouldn’t be eating wheat. Wheat and rice are beginning to cause horrible problems in India. Times of India

To argue about the findings of this study is to miss the point. Thirty years ago when i was in University there was a great deal of concern in some circles regarding the loss of wild grains. However, there was no support for research in the area, hence no money. This is an old cause, looking to cash in on the global warming bonanza, just like two thirds of the (previously) orphan scientific fields of study. All they added to the 30 year old concern were the words ‘global warming’.
I was at the local university a while back and was amused and dismayed to find uncoming lectures on topics from psychology to biology and aboriginal studies (humanities?), all related to global warminging in one way or another. I suppose it should be no surprise. With an ever increasing population of clueless grad students struggling to find theses, global warming is like a catch-all for the uninspired. A catch-all with tons of money no less!

Matt G

Comparing one years crop (1980) with another years (2008) has nothing to do with global warming or even representive of the local climate. One years crop is affected by weather during the growing season that year and has very little to do with anything else. Comparing samples between 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 would give very different results depending on the weather affecting the crop. Then to speculate global warming will wipe out crops based on just 2 different years cherry picked from one country, is just science at it’s worse.

u.k.(us)

Bob says:
February 26, 2012 at 5:20 am
…..”If wild grain genetic material were that important, I’m sure folks would be cultivating it and storing the seeds.
======================
Just as an FYI, someone already thought of that.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svalbard_Global_Seed_Vault
“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (Norwegian: Svalbard globale frøhvelv) is a secure seedbank located on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near the town of Longyearbyen in the remote Arctic Svalbard archipelago, about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) from the North Pole.[1] The facility preserves a wide variety of plant seeds in an underground cavern………………”

EH

Absolutely right, Canuckland! I wonder where the strong defense of EVOLUTION is by many scientists who subscribe to it? Such folks can’t accept the reality of evolution, apparently. With constant interference in the mechanisims of evolution to “correct” what EVOLVES, no matter what the state of the climate, man dooms himself. When will the press begin to challenge the “possibilities” of the AGW propogandizers of every stripe, including SO CALLED CLIMATE SCIENTISTS, as to the fallacy of their conclusions, which they openly state as “most likely…”, or “may…”, or “could…”, “is estimated…”?

DirkH

john s says:
February 26, 2012 at 9:32 am
“All they added to the 30 year old concern were the words ‘global warming’.”
Very well explained here.

pk

these guys don’t seem to realize just how big wheat is. wheat makes coal look puny in the railroad world. and most “civilians” don’t realize just how big or important it is because it is shipped in cars and trucks that are covered so they don’t know just what is moving.
having lived in “wheat country” for the formative years of my life i would speculate that if a shorter growing cycle is being deliberately bred into the various wheats its’ to reduce the exposure to hail damage.
C

sophocles

I have a cherry tree. It was planted in 1987. In 1993, it flowered for the first time. Now it flowers about 7 to 10 days earlier than it first did. It certainly doesn’t look environmentally stressed: it’s still growing vigorously, flowering profusely and has plentiful foliage with what appear to my untrained eye to be healthy leaves.
Auckland (NZ) is too far south to grow viable banana trees. They will grow, but up to a couple of decades ago, they tended to be stunted and set very little fruit. Although I’m not a trained botanist, I’ve always regarded these characteristics to be because the plant was environmentally stressed.
In recent years, I have noticed banana trees growing more vigorously to much greater heights and setting much more fruit. Admittedly, the bananas are still small, but they are now edible. Is this environmental stress?
Perhaps my cherry tree’s earlier flowering is because it can? We certainly haven’t had any late hard frosts over the last decade … which would stress it. Perhaps the greater growth of the banana palms and their improved setting of fruit is because they can.
Perhaps plants maintain their own timetables by responding to light, CO2 and temperature changes? Perhaps this global warming is actually good for plants.

Brian H

Domestic wheat has a larger genome than humans. There’re lots of tricks hidden in there!

Willis Eschenbach

I’ve added an update to the head post.
w.

““The ongoing global warming in Israel is THE ONLY LIKELY FACTOR that could have caused earliness in flowering and genetic turnover across the range of wild cereals in Israel. ” [capitals, mine]
These are blithering idiots! They have no right to claim to know anything about plants!
Higher CO2 makes many plants more temperature tolerant and able to grow and bloom earlier than otherwise. In addition, they are more efficient with water and nutrient utilization!
The fact that they focus single-mindedly on global warming indicates to me either a poor education and lack of mature thinking, or a political agenda—they tied it to global warming and supported the agenda, so more funding please.
In the UK, flowering plants have been flowering 2 weeks earlier than previously and, as the temperature has not changed from the time when they bloomed “normally,” the only change is in the CO2 supply. Duh!

The authors seem to suggest that a constant input of original genetic material is needed for good crops. Since, when? Are our corn crops going to disappear if Zea mays disappeared? I think not—it’s not like they are quantum-entangled or such.
They also, as has been alluded to above, seem to think that gene pools are static. So, shall we ask where they gained their education in molecular biology, population genetics, and genetic drift? Maybe they only read the first chapter and decided they had enough buzz words to suit them.

Philip Bradley

I live in a similar climate to Israel (Perth Western Australia, we are perhaps 2C to 3C warmer than TA), and have what we call grass verges along two sides of my house.
I can tell you categorically that water availability is what determines when grasses grow in this climate. Temperatures have little effect.
If the study’s finding of earlier flowering is sound then I would look at changes in water availability, specifically groundwater availability. I know Israel draws a lot of groundwater from wells.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

Why couldn’t it be that the increased atmospheric CO₂ is making them sprout faster? If it is making plants grow faster at other stages, why not at the germination stage? Why wouldn’t the extra plant food signal to the seed it’s a good time to start sprouting, even if it is still slightly cooler than the same time of year in 1980 when there was less atmospheric plant food?

Philip Bradley

Brian H says:
February 26, 2012 at 5:41 am
“To all above, except Ian W., who gets it, there is no need or justification to invoke “adapting” or “evolving”. An internal trigger, as I posted above, that responds to regionally relevant clues and cues is far more parsimonious and likely. ”

I agree, and a rather startling error from an ‘Institute of Evolution’.
The grasses would have evolved a very long time ago to respond to climactic changes over a number of seasons by flowering earlier or later.
Indeed, the speed with which they do this and the range of flowering times would be an interesting indicator of past climate variation.

higley7 said @ February 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

The authors seem to suggest that a constant input of original genetic material is needed for good crops. Since, when? Are our corn crops going to disappear if Zea mays disappeared? I think not—it’s not like they are quantum-entangled or such.

ROFL! Interesting that you chose Zea mays for your example — it’s er… anthropogenic. I wonder if the alarmists would be fighting tooth and nail to prevent its use were it developed today, rather than thousands of years ago.

Philip Bradley says:
February 26, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Brian H says:
February 26, 2012 at 5:41 am
“To all above, except Ian W., who gets it, there is no need or justification to invoke “adapting” or “evolving”. An internal trigger, as I posted above, that responds to regionally relevant clues and cues is far more parsimonious and likely. ”

I agree, and a rather startling error from an ‘Institute of Evolution’.
The grasses would have evolved a very long time ago to respond to climactic changes over a number of seasons by flowering earlier or later.
Indeed, the speed with which they do this and the range of flowering times would be an interesting indicator of past climate variation.

The presence of betaine in grasses would be an indicator also — of colder conditions. While originally extracted from beets (hence its name) this substance confers cold resistance. We have used the extract here in Tasmania to confer frost resistance in buckwheat and other crops. All muck and mystery and unscientific according to some around here just because it wasn’t a synthetic from Monsanto, but there you go.

johanna

The term ‘genetic erosion’ means what? Have they lost some chromosomes or something? Note the elision of A Bad Thing (erosion) with ‘genetic’ to create A Scary Concept.
As PPs have said, where is the evidence that they have identified meaningful changes to the genomes of these plants over 30 years? And if they did identify them, where is the causation trail that leads to rising temperatures as the sole cause (assuming the temperatures did rise significantly, which is also debatable).
This is not a study; it’s a colander.

johanna said @ February 26, 2012 at 2:26 pm

This is not a study; it’s a colander.

Respectfully disagree. They appear to have flushed any useful information down the drain, rather than retaining it; an inverse colander perhaps?

Philip Bradley

The term ‘genetic erosion’ means what?
It means loss of genetic diversity.
I agree about the new scary term, replacing a widely used and perfectly acceptable, but not scary enough, existing term.
I think I’ll coin the term ‘Gramscian Science’ to describe this.

Philip Bradley said @ February 26, 2012 at 2:49 pm

The term ‘genetic erosion’ means what?

It means loss of genetic diversity.
I agree about the new scary term, replacing a widely used and perfectly acceptable, but not scary enough, existing term.
I think I’ll coin the term ‘Gramscian Science’ to describe this.

And that loss is usually taken to mean the displacement of heirloom varieties by modern hybrids, not loss of genes in a particular strain.
Care to explain what you mean by ‘Gramscian Science’? That went rather over my head… What on earth have chickpeas to do with this?

RACookPE1978

Lettuce assume that this paper is correct: That certain “genes” have been (selectively advanced and retarded) due to changes in the earth’s global (average) temperature (but only as measured at this one location.)
Then, since temperature HAVE increased since the mid-1850’s, these “researchers” MUST establish that
(1) the changes noted are solely and uniquely due to changes in temperture and NOT due to those measured changes in CO2, water, humidity, night time high temperature/low temperatures,mid-day high/low temperatures changes, fertilizer, and cloud cover/humidity that have occurred since 1850 at that location ….
(2) the(rate of) changes supposedly discovered STOPPED occurring when temperature stopped increasing in 2000. Further, since these “researchers” supposedly detected a change in genetic structure was caused by a change in temperature, then the rate of change in those genetic changes must track temperature (since 1850 – or their baseline). That is, did the changes slow when temps dropped between 1940 and 1970? Did the rate increase between 1915 and 1940?
Or did they just find a single change? And then extrapolate that single change to global warming?