Major gaps in our collections of wild species related to crops (crop wild relatives, or CWR) have been identified in a global survey undertaken by a large international consortium on CWR conservation led by the Global Crop Diversity Trust. The survey found that more than half of the 455 Crop Wild Relative (CWR) species studied have little or no material conserved in the global network of seed banks, and that eggplants were at the top of the list for conservation concern (see graph below from the report). Nature News covered this story and reported a short summary of the findings; the complete report can be found here. The Solanum team at the Natural History Museum worked with the CIAT group providing data for tomato and eggplant (aubergine) wild relative distribution.
Solanum melongena - the cultivated aubergine or eggplant - is a crop of Asian origin, but its wild relatives are mostly found in Africa. A recent paper in the Open Access journal PLoS ONE by the NHM Solanum team clarified the names for this group, making the big task of collecting these wild relatives much easier now that the names can be used consistently. Former NHM post-doc Tiina Sarkinen, now working at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, has posted a blog on the significance of these findings, and how taxonomic work underpins future efforts in crop improvement.