The past and future of the Silk Road

An interview with Robert N. Spengler III, author of Fruit from the Sands: The Silk Road Origins of the Foods We Eat1 reminds me that there have been a couple of interesting papers about that part of the world recently that I was meaning to blog about.

  • The domesticated apple originated half way along the Silk Road, and spread in both directions, changing most drastically in Europe due to intensive introgression from the crabapple. And more.
  • In contrast, citrus fruits originated in SE Asia, and spread westward, Citrus medica (citron) reaching the Mediterranean first, and C. limon (lemon) second, both in antiquity.
  • There were northern and southern routes of crop movement through central Asia, plus a maritime route.

Given the importance of the Silk Road in the domestication and the spread of crops, it is perhaps worth asking if the Belt and Road Initiative could be an opportunity for significant conservation actions. WWF has done a preliminary environmental impact assessment, but not focusing particularly on agricultural biodiversity.

  1. And also the paper Origins of the Apple: The Role of Megafaunal Mutualism in the Domestication of Malus and Rosaceous Trees, which is nicely summarized here and we included in Brainfood. []

2 Replies to “The past and future of the Silk Road”

  1. Very interested in crop domestication beyond the Fertile Crescent.
    What crops have been separately domesticated in different locations, with opportunities to introgress different gene pools? e.g. 6 row naked barley independently domesticated in Tibet with cold tolerance and drought tolerance traits not in the Mid East origin barley. Opportunities to benefit from introgression as per the spring-winter wheat introgression program in CIMMYT in the 1970s.

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