Fruit rinds provide new clues about crop domestication
Distinctly sculptured opaline phytoliths in soil and plant remains tell archaeologists which plants were present thousands of years ago. However, the production and purpose of these tiny glassy structures common in plant tissues is poorly understood. Dolores Piperno at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama and colleagues predict that a single genetic locus controls both lignin and phytolith production in squash (Cucurbita spp.), making phytoliths even better evidence of plant domestication events.
Sometime after the last ice age, inhabitants of the western hemisphere began to select and cultivate food plants. Plant remains at archaeological sites may not be well preserved, but features often contain phytoliths, tiny silica dioxide deposits from plant tissues. These destinctive microfossils have been used increasingly over the last decade in studies of plant domestication, because they clearly identify a number of different crop plants and their wild progenitors.
Dolores Piperno | EurekAlert!
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