Things That Matter

In Amazing Science News, We’ve Mapped The DNA Of Avocados And This Is Why That’s A Big Deal

In recent news of science doing what science does best, a team of researchers have just successfully sequenced the avocado genome. 

And, yes, it’s a big deal. Like life will never be the same for us kind of big deal. The joint study was published earlier this week and used genomics to uncover the ancient origins of avocados. It also investigated how we mere mortals can improve our avocado farming to increase output of this delicious fruit. 

The heroes of the hour are researchers at the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO) in Mexico, Texas Tech University, and the University at Buffalo. 

Aside from being an incredible cool endeavour, here’s a taste of why this study has us so excited. 

This data provides vital clues that will help us optimise avocado production. AKA, GROW MORE AVOS FOR CHEAP. 

Credit: Eater.LA.com

Avocados naturally have a long life cycle, which can make breeding programs difficult. Now that we can better understand avocado DNA, it should help scientists come up with breeding methods that are way more efficient. They also hope that DNA sequencing will also help them improve the disease resistance of avocado plants – in turn making them easier to grow. 

In a world where avocados are getting more and more unaffordable, this sort of good news is music to our ears. 

Because no, it’s not just you – the price of avocados has skyrocketed in recent months, and are at their highest in at least a decade. It’s come to the point where some restaurants in the US are increasing the prices of any menu items containing avocado, or just taking out the ingredient altogether. It’s a travesty.  

Thankfully, there’s now hope that avocados will be more affordable in future.

The global market for avocados was worth $13 billion in 2017.

Credit: madeinhonduras.net

The slippery, glorious avocado skyrocketed to international adoration in the 20th century. Today, it’s smeared on tortillas, smashed on toast, blended in smoothies and added to soups.

A Mexican eats, on average, more than seven kilos of avocado a year. So it’s no surprise they’re also the world’s greatest producer – exporting $2.5 billion to the US last year alone. As demand continues to rise in the United States, so prices are continuing to rise.

So, finding a way to increase and optimise avocado crop is kind of a big deal. 

It could mean the atrocity of avocado-less “mock guacamole” is canceled. 

Chilango recently wrote up an exposure of the sneaky mock-guac that some taquerias in Mexico have begun to serve in an attempt to overcome rising avocado prices. 

It could mean more that the aguacate in your torta is actually visible to the naked eye. 

Credit: recetapordia.es

What’s also exciting is that there’s a chance that scientists will now be able to create avocados fruit with new tastes and textures. 

That means potentially NEW and improved ways to explore your undying love for avocado. 

It could mean that the days of pit-slip knife cuts are over. Seeds are so 2019.

Credit: BetterLiving / YouTube

Okay, we have no idea if this is true but how great would that be? Because ‘avocado hand’ is a real, medical term. One can dream. 

What else did we learn from the study? 

We now know the origins of the Hass avocado.

Credit: fourwindsgrowers.com

Oh, you know Hass – everyone does. 

While avocados come in many shapes and sizes, Hass avocados are by far the most common variant grown and exported around the world. 

Scientists have always suspected the Hass avocado was a hybrid, though the genetic ratios were previously unknown. Through DNA sequencing, researchers now know that the Hass is a mix of 61% Mexican avocado and 39% Guatemalan avocado genes. 

They’re also genetically identical to the first Hass avocados planted in the 1920s, grown by grafting branches of existing trees onto new rootstocks. Cool eh?

And we now understand more about the avocado’s humble beginnings.

Credit: these foreign roads.com

Although now something of a trending food, avocados have been important to Central and South American sustenance for a long, long time. The Aztecs changed the course of history when they mashed up avocados to make a sauce called āhuacamolli (say that aloud – sound familiar?)

The oldest found avocado pit was discovered in Coxcatlan Cave some 9,000 – 10,000 years ago. In fact, scientists speculate that in prehistoric times, avocados (in a different form) may have been eaten by megafauna like giant sloths, who helped the avocado plants spread by pooping out seeds across the land. 

Now, is there really a better image than giant sloths munching on ancient avos?

In regards to family history, the avocado fits into a plant group called magnoliids, which split  from other flowering plant species about 150 million years ago. Scientists now have a much greater understanding of their relationship to these plants, and how their genes have developed through the course of time. 

Can we now protect our precious avocados from climate change?

Lastly, the study is especially important since avocados are expected to be heavily impacted by climate change.

A report released last month by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) predicted that, at the rate we were going, California could lose 40 percent of its avocado supply by 2050.

One of the biggest reasons understanding avocado DNA is so important, so we can make sure we carry this glorious fruit with us deep into the future. 

Said Luis Herrera-Estrella, who helped conceive the study: “We hope that the Mexican Government keeps supporting these types of ambitious projects that use state-of-the-art technology to provide a deep understanding of the genetics and genomics of native Mexican plants.”

A 25-Year-Old Woman Was Murdered And Skinned, Then Mexican Newspapers Published Photos Of Her Body

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A 25-Year-Old Woman Was Murdered And Skinned, Then Mexican Newspapers Published Photos Of Her Body

SkyNews/ Twitter

In Mexico, the recent brutal mutilation and slaying of a 25-year-old woman are spurning conversations about the country’s efforts to prevent femicide and laws that protect victims from the media.

On Sunday, Mexican authorities revealed that they had discovered the body of Ingrid Escamilla.

According to reports, Escamilla was found lifeless with her body skinned and many of her organs missing. At the scene, a 46-year-old man was also discovered alive. His body was covered in bloodstains and he was arrested.

As of this story wasn’t troubling enough, local tabloids and websites managed to bring more tragedy to the victim and her family by splashing leaked graphic photos and videos of the victim’s body. In a terribly crafted headline, one paper by the name of Pasala printed the photos on its front page with the headline “It was Cupid’s fault.” The headline is a reference to the fact that the man found at the scene was Escamilla’s husband.

According to leaked video footage from the arrest scene, Escamilla’s husband admitted to stabbing his wife after a heated argument in which she threatened to kill him. He then claimed to have skinned her body to eliminate evidence.

Mexic City’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, revealed that prosecutors will demand the maximum sentence against the alleged perpetrator.

“Femicide is an absolutely condemnable crime. It is appalling when hatred reaches extremes like in the case of Ingrid Escamilla,” Sheinbaum wrote in a tweet according to CNN. According to reports, Mexico broke records in 2018 when its homicide record reached over 33,000 people that year.

The publication of Escamilla’s mutilated body has sparked discussions regarding the way in which reports about violence against women are handled.

Women’s rights organizations have lambasted the papers that originally published photos of Escamilla’s body and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also expressed criticism of the media’s response to the brutal slaying.

In a press conference on Thursday, President López Obrador expressed his determination to find and punish anyone responsible for the image leaks. “This is a crime, that needs to be punished, whoever it is,” he stated.

Conservationists At Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Reserve Are Being Murdered And Investigators Aren’t Sure Why

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Conservationists At Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Reserve Are Being Murdered And Investigators Aren’t Sure Why

Alan Ortega / Getty

Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly Reserve is one of the world’s most famous wildlife hotspots. Hundreds of thousands come each year to view the annual migration of millions of beautiful butterflies that call Mexico’s Michoacan state home during the winter.

However, this iconic and majestic habitat for one of the world’s most endangered animals is now the backdrop for a dramatic murder mystery that is unfolding in international headlines. Two conservationists have been discovered dead just days apart and investigators still aren’t sure why.

A second victim has been pronounced killed by authorities in Mexico’s Monarch Butterfly reserve.

Credit: Alan Ortega / Getty

One of the world’s most beautiful wildlife spots is now the backdrop for a dramatic double murder after two nature activists are discovered dead at Mexico’s El Rosario monarch butterfly sanctuary.

The deaths of Homero Gomez Gonzalez, manager of the butterfly reserve, and Raul Hernandez Romero, a tour guide at the sanctuary, have sent shockwaves across the world of wildlife conservation.

Hernandez Romero’s body was discovered on Saturday near the highest point of the mountainous sanctuary, which sits 9,000 feet above sea level in the state of Michoacan, about 130 miles west of Mexico City, according to a statement from the Michoacan state prosecutor’s office. Hernandez Romero’s family reported him missing on Friday, officials said.

The new victim was found just days after the first victim’s body was found after being missing for 16 days.

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Authorities discovered his body about three days after the Hernandez Romero’s body was found in a pond near the Central Mexico town of El Soldado, prosecutors said.

An autopsy performed in the presence of State Human Rights Commission representatives determined Gomez Gonzalez died from “mechanical asphyxiation” after suffering head trauma and being submerged in water.

Gomez Gonzalez, whose family reported him missing two weeks ago, was one of the region’s most prominent conservation activists and a vocal defender of the monarch butterflies. He had launched a campaign against illegal logging that threatens the butterflies nesting grounds.

Although petty crime and theft is common in these parts of Mexico, authorities don’t believe this to be the case in Gonzalez’s death. He was found with about $9,000 pesos (or about $500 USD) on him when his body was discovered.

Mexico’s Monarch butterfly preserve is a UNESCO Biosphere reserve that draws hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

Each winter, millions of monarch butterflies make their home at the El Rosario reserve in Mexico — one of the best places in the world to see them. Local guides lead tourists up the mountainside on foot and horseback to where the monarchs cluster in fir and pine trees. Their bright orange wings flit amid the mild weather of Michoacán, and signs ask for silence as visitors enter the nesting areas.

The El Rosario sanctuary is part of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, which was enshrined as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, calling the overwintering concentration of butterflies there “a superlative natural phenomenon.” It noted that more than half of overwintering colonies of the monarch butterfly’s eastern population are found in these specific areas of Mexico.

But the same forests that draw butterflies to migrate thousands of miles each winter are under threat from illegal logging and clandestine avocado farms.

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

Officials in the state of Michoacán said they were unsure if the two deaths were linked – or related to the men’s work in the butterfly reserve. The state has seen a rising tide of violence in recent years, and the region around the monarch butterfly reserve has been rife with illegal logging, despite a ban imposed to protect the monarchs, which winter in the pine- and fir-covered hills.

Some illegal clearcutting is also carried out to allow for the planting of avocado orchards – one of Mexico’s most lucrative crops and an important part of Michoacán’s economy.

The deaths again called attention to the disturbing trend in Mexico of environmental defenders being killed as they come into conflict with developers or local crime groups, who often have political and police protection.