Well, I am actually in place to go to China now! This morning I went to pick up my visa for the trip, an altogether more pleasant experience than last time I got a visa. Now the whole process is handled out of a very efficient office on the Holborn Viaduct, where before one had to queue outside the Embassy, sometimes in the pouring rain for hours (this is London after all)! Great! Next step, plane tickets. I will go to Beijing, meet my colleague Wang JinXiu from the Institute of Botany with whom I have been investigating the origins and domestication of aubergines (Solanum melongena). We last went in the field together in 2007, when we visited Xishuangbanna near the border of Laos, so I am really looking forward to this! China is a paradise for aubergines, there are many named varieties, each used differently - so the food should be great. Can't wait - next stop the travel agents!
JinXiu is the furthest to the left in the picture!
In China, I will be collecting aubergines with my colleague Jin Xiu and her team. We are looking at diversity and distribution of cultivars in China, with an eye to uncovering the history of aubergine domestication. We are also looking at the genetic diversity of aubergine cultivars in China (Jim Xiu has recently been to India as well and I am excited to hear of her results!) in order to help plant breeders in their work. As well as looking at aubergines – Jin Xiu is so good at chatting with farmers and we all learn so much on these field trips – we will also be looking for any other species of Solanum (the plant genus to which aubergines belong) we can find.
I am interested in the evolutionary relationships in Solanum as a whole (there are about 1500 species, making it one of the largest genera of flowering plants) and to date, we have very few Asian species in our analyses. Material we collect will be analysed in the NHM herbarium, but we will also extract DNA in order to look at evolutionary relationships using sequences – it will be exciting to see what we find!