Domestication of crops led our hunter-gatherer’s ancestors to settle down with farming. It happened around 9500 BC in the Neolithic Age that humans took to dangerous farming and only about 9,000 years back agricultural societies sprouted in the world and men settled down.
As with the evolution of humankind and farming practices, the crops we have grown have also undergone an evolution. In fact, the fruits, vegetables and grains that we eat these days are entirely different from their ancestors. From size, taste and juice content, centuries of selective breeding have entirely changed the traits of most of the things we see around us. Be it corn, tomato or fruits like watermelons and peaches, and they have evolved over thousands of years of continuous selection and propagation to the present form and taste. With our knowledge of genetics and plant breeding, most crop enhancements were achieved in the 20th century. Modern tools allowed breeders to improve productivity and consumer traits. While selecting for desired traits, many of the crop varieties lost their wild traits of adaptability to the environment and became susceptible to various physical and biological stresses.
Given the challenges of climate change being faced by the farmers today, we need to tap into the wild germplasm resources to look for genes that provide climate resilience to crops. With our extensive knowledge of genomics and tools like gene editing, we can edit native genes as per the wild allele sequences to enhance adaptability to severe environments.
On such example of efficient use of technology to enable domestication of wild species is African landraces being made productive? The African rice varieties are quite well adapted to the heat and water conditions but have poor domestication traits like seed shattering, lodging, and yield. The stacking of multiple gene edit combinations through CRISPR-Cas technology provides a means for rapid domestication of African landraces that have traits making them more suitable for sustainable agriculture while weathering severe climate change. The methodology can be adapted for multiple locally modified orphan crops. These improvements can play a pivotal role in African food security.