Rutgers - Science Summer Abroad 2010
Nine Science Undergraduate Students Around the World

Sunday, May 23, 2010

An early morning

Wake up call: bird songs at 5:30 AM. Up and at em. I think I could get used to this. I love the morning. As I always say (you´ve probably heard this a million times when I explain why I cannot go out with you to a party at 11 PM), I am a lark. Though I´m not sure if they have larks here, so I´ll say I am a flycatcher. Pretty yellow bird. I did manage to capture it on film, i.e. memory card, so you´ll see it as soon as I get a little more technologically advanced.
The black lab here at the lodge enjoyed a morning yoga session with us yesterday. He´s my morning buddy - no one else here is up at this hour.
I´m convinced I may develop a coffee addiction while I am here, I had more at breakfast yesterday than I did the day before. I will try and restrain myself today.
CATIE is an institution for agricultural research and graduate education. It is also home to a large germplasm collection. Such collections, which hold numerous varieties of different species, are warehouses of genetic diversity. Having such collections allows us to respond to problems such as UG99, a strain of fungus that has overcome the trait for resistance in the wheat we grow today and now threatens our food supply (no, I am not a harbringer of the apocalypse, it´s not even 2012 yet!). The main collections at CATIE are coffee, cacao, and annatto. The first two I am sure you are very familiar with and that you appreciate, as do I, how very VERY important these crops are. (With regard to chocolate, both theobroma, the genus name, and cacao, the Mayan name, mean fruit of the Gods.) You are familiar with annatto, though you may not realize it. It is used as a coloring agent in foods and cosmetics.
An example of the importance of these collections is in order, to make you relaize just how essential they are. In the 1970s, coffee rust wiped out the crops in Brazil and Africa. Researchers identified, among the collection held at CATIE, one variety that was naturally resistant. This specimen was then crossed with commercially grown varieties to produce a variety that was both commercially viable and resistant and therefore could be grown without the use of potentially harmful and environmentally detrimental fungicides. As pathogens and pests evolve new strategies to attack crops, researchers look for varieties with key resistance traits. They may also look for such characteristics as high yield or tolerance of adverse growning conditions.
Our guide pointed out some interesting plants in the collection. One was a fruit from Colombia which is used to make a drink. Only one tablespoon of the paste is needed to make one liter. It is purportedly an aphrodisiac. It is also high in phoisphorus and will help keep you awake. As our guide said, ïf you aren´t sleeping, you must be doing something¨!¨
Such tropical fruits are falling ¨victim to the global market¨as the younger children in the region are more apt to eat apples and grapes than the native fruits. The culture and the food system are changing rapidly.
After lunch, two fellow students and I joined our professor plant collecting while everyone else went in the pool on CATIE´s campus. While they splashed around, we trudged up and down the hill at the farm we visited the day before. All the way to where the cows are and all the way back down. ALL THE WAY. This cannot be emphsized enough. As we wound our way back down, literally wound, the road is curvy, the thunder grew threatening. Fortunately we made it to the bus before we fell victim to any mudslide. But, by the time we got to the pool to pick up the ¨slackers,¨ it was raining, sure enough.
After a brief taxonomy lesson, we identified the collected plants to family. For instance, coffee is in the Rubiaceae family. Some characteristics we look at in taxonomy, or classification, are leaf venation and arrangement on the stem, as well as the flower. Only problem: my bad memory. Do you think I really can remember all the names of the families and the different characteristics! The names are just so long, and difficult to spell, let alone pronounce!
We depart today for EARTH institute. I do not want to leave this inn behind.

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