Darwin's Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops

Darwin's Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops

Darwin's Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops

Darwin's Harvest: New Approaches to the Origins, Evolution, and Conservation of Crops

Synopsis

Darwin's Harvest addresses concerns that we are losing the diversity of crop plants that provide food for most of the world. With contributions from evolutionary biologists, geneticists, agronomists, molecular biologists, and anthropologists, this collection discusses how economic development, loss of heirloom varieties and wild ancestors, and modern agricultural techniques have endangered the genetic diversity needed to keep agricultural crops vital and capable of adaptation.

Drawing on the most up-to-date data, the contributors review the utilization of molecular techniques to understand crop evolution. They explore current research on various crop plants of both temperate and tropical origin, including maize, sunflower, avocado, sugarcane, and wheat. The chapters in Darwin's Harvest also provide solid background for understanding many recent discoveries concerning the origins of crops and the influence of human migration and farming practices on the genetics of our modern foods.

Excerpt

Timothy J. Motley

Research on crop plants often has been at the forefront of revolutions in plant biology. Notable achievements include Charles Darwin's studies of variation of plants under domestication (Darwin, 1883), the work of Gregor Mendel on the garden pea and the principles of inheritance, and the Nobel Prizewinning research of Barbara McClintock and her discovery of transposable elements in maize (McClintock, 1950). More recently with the development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and automated sequencing technology, novel dna markers and gene regions often are first used by crop plant researchers before being used in other botanical disciplines. These techniques have enabled crop scientists to address questions that they previously could not answer, such as the effects of domestication and selection on the entire plant genome (Emshwiller, in press). Rice (Oryza sativa) was the second plant species, after the model plant species Arabidopsis thaliana, to have its entire genome sequenced (Goff et al., 2002; Yu et al., 2002). Current genome sequencing projects, such as those at the Institute for Genomics Research, are focusing on agronomically important groups, including the grass, legume, tomato, and cabbage families (see www.tigr.org).

Research on crop plant origins and evolution is relevant to researchers in many disciplines. Geneticists, agronomists, botanists, systematists, population biologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, economic botanists . . .

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