With all the constant media furore over genetically modified crops, and whether or not gene splicing is a good idea for preserving the future of industrialised agriculture, it can be easy to forget that every human civilisation has been genetically modifying other species since time began.
The thing is, while everyone knows about the domestication of wolves, horses, cats and chickens, you might not know that humans have done the exact same things to fruit and vegetables for aeons! Ever since our species first began farming we’ve been manipulating the phenotype of our crops in order to get a bigger, tastier yield at less expense. This means that modern versions are virtually unrecognisable from their wild cousins. To prove it, we’ve collated a few examples of wild fruit and veg that looks totally different to what you’d expect.
Charles Darwin was the first scientist to properly recognise the small number of traits that made domestic species different from their wild ancestors. He was also the first to recognise the difference between conscious selective breeding in which humans directly select the most desirable traits, and unconscious selection where traits evolve as a result of natural selection.
The earliest human attempts at plant domestication occurred in south western Asia, and there is early evidence for conscious cultivation and trait selection of plants by pre-Neolithic groups in Syria. So next time you bite into an apple or tuck into a punnet of grapes, take a second to appreciate the fact that your food has been horticulturally manipulated and is totally distinct from the fruit our ancient ancestors would have recognised.