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Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

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This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

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Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.

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Coconut Conservationist Seeks Pacific Islands For Fun And Palm Preservation

Nov 20, 2012
Originally published on November 28, 2012 8:59 am

French adventurer-scientist Roland Bourdeix has a grand, almost surreal, vision for how to preserve a thousand or more genetic varieties of coconut trees. Imagine, as he does, turning dozens or hundreds of remote Pacific islands into coconut sanctuaries. Each island would contain just a few varieties of these trees. No others would be allowed, because the whole point of this exercise is to prevent uncontrolled mixing of genes from different varieties.

But why? Are coconut trees, the source of oil and newly trendy coconut water, somehow in danger?

Not exactly. At least not for now. There are plenty of coconut palms all over the tropics, and coconut production has been slowly growing.

But that masks a potential long-term problem, says Stephan Weise, Deputy Director General for Research at Bioversity International in Rome. Most coconut production comes from a small slice of the coconut's gene pool. Producers rely on a handful of high-producing varieties or hybrids.

Those commercial varieties are slowly overwhelming traditional varieties that people in the tropics have tended for thousands of years. Those traditional strains of coconut are the storehouse of the coconut's genetic diversity: All of the colors, shapes, tastes, and survival tools that this species possesses — and may need again someday.

Conserving such diversity in agricultural crops is a familiar problem. Whether it's rice or cucumbers, farmers around the world have been replacing traditional "landraces" with a small number of high-yielding varieties created by plant breeders.

But the situation with coconuts has an additional twist, Weise says.

First of all, scientists can't yet preserve a particular line of coconuts in refrigerated "gene banks," as they do with standard seeds. They can't dry, freeze, and preserve coconuts for decades, as they can with corn kernels. Instead, coconuts have to be preserved as living trees, growing outside.

This leads to the second problem. Coconut varieties growing in the open air often won't reproduce themselves reliably. Their flowers pick up pollen from other trees nearby, which often turn out to be commercial varieties or hybrids. And when that happens, their genetic identity is "diluted." Their offspring won't contain their particular combination of genes. Some genes may be lost altogether.

So what's the secret to preserving these heirloom coconuts? For starters, scientists have set up a dozen open-air coconut gene banks. They're reproducing each variety through careful hand-pollination of the trees. But Weise says that's expensive and labor-intensive, especially when trees get tall, with flowers beyond the reach of ladders. (There's also the threat of disease; a coconut collection in Papua New Guinea is under quarantine right now because of an outbreak of disease nearby.)

Which brings us back to Roland Bourdeix's crazy-sounding idea. Bourdeix is a scientist at CIRAD, a French research institute on agricultural development, and he's one of the world's leading experts on coconuts. The key to preserving coconut biodiversity more cheaply, he thinks, is isolation. And there's no more isolated place than a lonely Pacific island. Just convince people on one of these islands to plant coconut trees from a single variety (or a handful of distinctly different varieties), and the problem, at least for that small corner of the coconut's gene pool, is practically solved.

So Bourdeix is now scouting the Pacific for such islands. He's found several where the inhabitants are willing to help turn his vision into reality. One of them is well-known already: The Tetiaroa Atoll in French Polynesia, an idyllic retreat once owned by Marlon Brando.

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