Since the days of the hunter-gatherers, Man has used for food plants of a vast genetic diversity. Yet the very earliest farming laid the seeds of a frightening tendency, greatly increased by the Agricultural Revolution. Uniformity in agriculture has been growing at an ever-increasing rate, most particularly in the use of plant breeds. As fewer varieties are employed, so the neglected ones disappear and are lost to the global gene pool. Genetic erosion is fast gathering pace.
The southern hemisphere now holds most of the world’s germplasm – the genetic basis of seeds – while the developed world is consolidating its control of genetic resources. Unexpected disasters to a particular crop variety will inevitably hit less developed countries harder than the economic superpowers, which still see the problem in short and local terms.
The Threatened Gene looks at the social effects of genetic erosion, from the Irish potato blight to mass Ethiopian starvation. Control over the gene pool is shifting from farmers to scientists and head of industry, while political considerations determine agricultural policy with increasing frequency.
This comprehensive, uncompromising study is written in lay terms from an international perspective. Despite the grimness of the message, the tale is told with fluency and even humour, and offers a solution to potential disaster in which each reader may play a part.