Monday, October 15, 2007

Grapevines and rice yield clues on early agriculture and civilizations
For the first time, geneticists have sequenced the genome of the grapevine. Their first reading of this information already has revealed significant changes that millenniums of selective breeding have made in this fruitful plant. Meanwhile, archaeologists have found what appears to be a site where rice was first cultivated in China.

Whether seen through the lens of 21st-century genetics or uncovered by traditional dig-and-sift archaeology, the story of the development of agriculture is becoming clearer. It is synonymous with the rise of civilization.

The grapevine geneticists made this point when they described their work in Nature last month. They quote the ancient Greek historian Thucydides' assertion "that Mediterranean people began to emerge from ignorance when they learnt to cultivate olives and grapes."