Published online 5 June 2014
New data provide insights into the interplay of human agricultural practices and the evolution of domestication traits in plants, thanks to an expanding archaeological record.
Plant domestication is a selective breeding process that takes place over successive generations, leading to changes in the plants, at a genetic level, that meet human needs. Archeobotany, the study of plant remains from archaeological sites, reveals the evolutionary processes involved and the domestication processes used in different regions worldwide.
A team of international researchers, led by Dorian Fuller from University College London in the UK, and including Michael Purugganan from New York University, affiliated with the Abu Dhabi Institute in the United Arab Emirates, studied the archeological remains of wild plant species. They found that many crop plant species independently evolved similar traits; a process known as convergent evolution.
The team found that the loss of seed shattering evolved more quickly than the increase in seed size, whereas most other domestication traits developed at a similarly slow rate in various parts of the world over a period of hundreds or even thousands of years. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1
“Domestication is a prime example of how different cultures in different parts of the world have impacted upon the evolution of plant species in very similar ways, leading to changes in those plants that made the growth of human populations possible several times in history,” says Fuller.