IPA’s weekly links

Guest post by Jeff Mosenkis of Innovations for Poverty Action.

  • Snot corn! That’s crop scientist Sarah Taber’s nickname for the variety of maize native Mexicans cultivated that allowed it to grow very high in very poor soil. According to a genetic sequencing published by UC Davis researchers, the secret is in the mucus-like goop around roots that are out in the open. The bacteria in the goop allow the plant to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, effectively fertilizing itself from the air. (Many farmers apply nitrogen fertilizer to crops, but this can have a lot of negative consequences for the environment, and be expensive or inaccessible for poor farmers). More background and explanation here. Scientists have been working on this problem for decades, but it turns out people in the mountains of southern Mexico figured it out thousands of years ago. (Also, follow Dr. Taber for a lot of interesting and funny insights into food and agriculture.)