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adaptation and as a means to identify genes that contribute to agronomically important traits.

Plant domestication fundamentally altered the course of human history. The adaptation of plants to cultivation was vital to the shift from hunter–gatherer to agricultural societies, and it stimulated the rise of cities and modern civilization. Humans still rely on crops that were domesticated >10,000 years ago in such diverse places as Central America, New Guinea, and the Fertile Crescent. Nonetheless, modern humans are reliant on a surprisingly small number of crops: Nearly 70% of the calories consumed by humans are supplied by only 15 crops (Table 11.1). The cereals are particularly important, with five crops (rice, wheat, maize, sugarcane, and barley) contributing more than half of the calories consumed.

Despite the critical importance of these crops, in most cases little is known about their domestication. Some obvious questions pertain to the domesticators: Who were they? How did they identify the incipient crop? What were their cultivation methods? Other questions concern crop history: What was the wild progenitor of the modern crop? Did domesti-

TABLE 11.1 Major World Crops Ranked by Metric Tonnage

Rank by Tonnage*

Common Name

Rank by Calories Consumed*

Ploidy

Propagation

Life History

1

Sugarcane

4

O,V

P

2

Maize

3

O

A

3

Wheat

2

O

A

4

Rice

1

S

A

5

Potatoes

6

O,V

AP

6

Sugar beet

8

O

A

7

Soybeans

5

S

A

8

Cassava

9

O,V

AP

9

Palm kernel

7

O

P

10

Barley

11

S

A

11

Sweet potatoes

15

4–6×

O,V

AP

12

Tomatoes

30

S

A

13

Watermelons

38

O

A

14

Bananas

19

V

P

15

Brassicas

37

O

A

O, outcrossing; S, selfing; V, vegetative; P, perennial; A, annual; AP, perennial species generally cultivated as annuals.

*Data are from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (www.fao.org, 2004).



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