Evolutionary Biology Volume 27, 1993, pp 51-94

The Use of Molecular and Biochemical Markers in Crop Evolution Studies

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Abstract

When de Candolle (1882) initiated the study of crop evolution, his major concern was to identify the geographic origin, i.e., the domestication center, of individual crops. In his opinion, the following four types of data would shed light on this question: (1) archaeology; (2) botany; (3) philology or linguistics; and (4) history. Of these four types of data, the first two are the most reliable (Harlan and de Wet, 1973). Archaeological remains attested to the antiquity of the cultivation of a crop in a region compared to other regions devoid of archaeological remains. Botanical arguments referred to the existence in a defined region of a wild-growing form that was sufficiently similar morphologically to the crop that it could represent its ancestral form (or at least the immediate descendant of the ancestral form). The existence of words designating a particular crop, particularly in native languages, was considered a testimony to the relative antiquity of cultivation of the crop. Finally, historical description, such as the treatises of Dioscorides and Theophrastus, the herbals of the 16th and 17th centuries, or descriptions of the New World shortly after the Spanish Conquista by, for example, Cieza de León (1541 –1550) or Acosta (1590), also would provide some evidence toward identifying the area of origin of crops.