Food is something we need in order to survive but we sometimes take this for granted. Have you ever wondered where food comes from and the history behind it? In fact, the meals you eat today are worlds apart from the meals our ancestors ate thousands of years ago.
A very long time ago, at around 10,000BC, people had to rely on the natural environment surrounding them in order to survive. It goes as far back as the ancients Egyptians who used fermentation to make bread and wine, but things have changed drastically over thousands of years.
The domestication of crops changed everything. People started to use better plant materials for reproduction and without them knowing it or doing it intentionally, food production started to improve.
The Discovery of Corn
This was one of the most significant events that led to the advancement of agriculture. When it was introduced in 1492, farmers started to adapt the plant so that it could grow successfully in it’s new environment.
It was native to the Americas but in Europe the climate and growing environment was totally different. This dilemma resulted in a revolution in the horticulture world. Farmers successfully changed the genetics through selective breeding so that it could grow anywhere. All of sudden, crops were transported across the globe and grew on all corners of the planet.
Traits in Plants
Plants have different traits. One plant may be extremely resistant to pests and a different plant may have very high nutritional values. These are good values but some plants have undesirable traits, like poor quality. Farmers realised this and started to select the better traits in plants for cultivation which were:
- Short growing season
- High nutritional values
- Shelf life
- Pest resistant
- Size of fruit or seeds
- Ability to adapt in a new growing environment
Gregor Mendel’s Discovery
Selective breeding occurred for quite some time before the discoveries of Gregor Mendel were known but farmers did not have a sound knowledge of the genetics of the plant. When Gregor Mendel’s theories were discovered, it revolutionised agriculture forever.
These revelations, found by Mendel, explained how genes are inherited from parent to child. It is the same as in humans where you will inherit traits from your parents. Farmers now understood that plants were made up of different genes that could be passed on to their offspring. They could separate the good traits from the bad.
New evidence also included the separation of the genes during formation and that it then combines randomly when fertilisation takes place. By gaining this knowledge farmers could now successfully breed selective crops and understand the process of the inheritance of genes.
Selective Cross Breeding
Selective cross breeding occurs when genes from two plants are combined to make a new variation of the plant. Farmers take the gene that is desirable in one plant and then transfers the pollen to the flower of a other plant. This ensures that the preferred traits get’s carried over, giving the new variation the desired characteristics. These characteristics may include pest and disease resistance or better tolerance to weather conditions.
Selective breeding have been incredibly successful over hundreds of years and was the main reason for the fast domestication of agriculture. Although it might seem like a simple process, it is of utmost importance that the two plants are very similar. Because the DNA integrates randomly, the results of selective cross breeding are unpredictable. The result can sometimes be unfavourable. The new variation may have a extreme resistance to pests but the nutritional value or size will be unfavourable.
There are a few downfalls to this method of propagation. Selective cross breeding takes time, and a lot of it. It can sometimes take 15 years to produce a new crop variety. It is time consuming and labour intensive which makes this technique quite expensive. A lot of effort is needed to separate the good genes from the bad genes in order to create a successful new crop variety.
Found in 1940, this mutagenesis process is when the make-up of the plant changes naturally. When this happens, the plant spontaneously develops new and desired characteristics or traits. The process involves the use of radiation or chemicals in order to change the DNA of the plant and plant breeders quickly realised that this method was much faster than any other.
The modification of the genes of the plants results in the plant showing desirable characteristics and because the process was much faster, it was used extensively in the 1970’s. Although it is not as popular these days, over 2500 new plant varieties have been developed using induced mutation.
As the knowledge of genetics progressed it made way for new technologies which changed the improvement techniques of creating new plant varieties .