A recurrent argument in favor of protecting nature is of course that new drugs and cures may hide behind biodiversity, so that we may best protect to our best, with the hope we are buying in the right tombola ticket (whenever we can’t save everything). Of course this is of importance (even though we overlooked the simple fact that recreational and cultural values of biodiversity should be enough to convince protecting is still the best we have to do), but translating the effort into the actual benefit is a very long enterprise. There are examples of interests but they are way too scarce.
But today, I’d like to investigate yet another aspect of biodiversity (variation within species instead of the more general “species richness” that we mean when speaking about biological diversity), and how the biodiversity thing can be more directly of importance with regard to health issues than finding the new cure to everything. [picture of olive tree courtesy of Luigi Rosa]
Olive trees are a very famous and important crop, providing us with very healthy fruits and oil. But it also stands as producing a pollen grain that can be very allergenic, and since it is usually cultivated over huge areas (especially in the Mediterranean region of course), this is quite a problem. A recent study* investigated variation in the all-err-gene (oops, couldn’t help but write it plain) in relation to cultivar origin. And it describes an expected polymorphism (okay, a variation) in the gene (technically referred to as “Ole e 1”) that’s indeed differing in space: the different cultivars not only exhibit some variation as genetical units (originating locally) but the genetic difference is even sometimes larger between cultivars than it is between the olive tree species and other species from the same family (Oleaceae). Not a big surprise, species are diverse. But given that this gene is know to produce allergies, and that allergenicity is also known to be highly variable, we are now left to investigate which alleles are safer in terms of public health. When we’ll know this, it could be a great help whenever this is taken into account in future breeding programs to formulate the next generation of olive cultivars. Nice perspective. Thinking diversity is indeed a real improvement that will change many things in a next future.
* A. Hamman-Khalifa, A.J. Castro, J.C. Jiménez-López, M.I. Rodríguez-García, J. de Dios Alché (2008). Olive cultivar origin is a major cause of polymorphism for Ole e 1 pollen allergen. BMC Plant Biology 2008, 8:10. (Access full text here).