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Resurrection of extinct squash from 800-year-old seeds shows importance of saving seeds in an age of GMOs

Indigenous foods

(NaturalNews) In recent decades, agriculture has increasingly come to rely on patented and GMO seeds provided by a handful of mega corporations. This has led to a dramatic decrease in the biodiversity of human food crops, threatening food security.

A different model is provided by the recent case of an ancient indigenous variety of North American squash, that has defied the drive toward homogenization and is now being planted not just by indigenous farmers, but by home gardeners as well.

According to various news sources, the seeds of the squash were discovered inside a tiny clay pot unearthed from an archaeological dig on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin in 2008. The sealed pot was 800 years old.

The power of traditional seed-saving

Researchers determined that the seeds belonged to a squash variety that is no longer cultivated anywhere – that is, extinct. In 2015, students in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada tried planting the seeds.

Despite their age, the seeds produced healthy vines that in turn produced massive, 30 pound, orange squash. The students dubbed the squash Gete-okosomin, meaning "Big Old Squash" in the Menominee language. The seeds of those squashes are now being shared, and people are being encouraged to plant Gete-okosomin to bring it all the way back from extinction. The story has been hailed as an example of the durability of traditionally bred seeds, and the importance of saving ancestral seeds to provide food for future generations.

Some researchers have a different origin story for Gete-okosomin, but that story, too, offers a powerful challenge to the recent trend toward patented seeds that must be purchased from suppliers each year.

According to researchers including Kenton Lobe of Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, the variety now known as Gete-okosomin never went extinct, and its seeds were not found inside an ancient clay pot. Instead, it is a variety that has been cultivated by the Miami Nation, originally from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

"The Miami [Nation] maintained a variety of squash that is prolific, it's huge, and it tastes incredible," he says.

The remarkable part of this story is that this variety was maintained through thousands of years of hand-pollination and seed selection by individual farmers and communities.

The failure of GMOs

What both stories have in common is the factor of traditionally bred seed that produces a remarkable and resilient crop that continues feeding people today. The seeds are "open source," in that no person or group can restrict the right of others to freely plant, save or distribute them.

There are two time-proven ways that farmers adapt to stressors such as drought, poor soil or new crop pests. They can simply swap seeds with farmers from another region and grow a variety better adapted to their new conditions, or they can use conventional breeding techniques to develop new strains that meet their needs. Both of these are undercut by loss of crop diversity and the concentration of seeds in the hands of a few companies. If seeds cannot be freely traded, the first method does not work. If the seeds that exist have limited genetic diversity, then new strains may not be able to be bred fast enough.

Conventional crop breeding, such as that which gave rise to the Gete-okosomin squash, is still the most effective method of meeting human food needs. In 2006, researchers from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico City noted that in just a few years, a project they were part of had successfully developed 153 new drought-resistant varieties of corn suitable for 13 countries, using conventional breeding. The same project had failed to produce a single drought-resistant GMO variety. A similar project produced 21 corn varieties adapted to poor soil, and failed to produce any GMO varieties.

That's because genetic engineering can address only a single gene at once, but qualities like drought resistance are usually complex, multi-gene traits.

Sources for this article include:





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