6,000-year-old barley similar to that grown today

The barley was among tens of thousands of samples found in a cave near the Dead Sea. Photo: Uri Davidovich

Samples show ‘considerable genetic overlap’ with present-day domesticated lines from the region

OrganicBiz staff

The profession of plant breeding goes back at least 6,000 years, at least based on evidence from an international team of researchers who have sequenced the genome of barley found in a cave near the Dead Sea in Israel.

Wheat and barley were already grown 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, a sickle-shaped region stretching from present-day Iraq and Iran through Turkey and Syria into Lebanon, Jordan and Israel.

This similarity is an amazing finding considering to what extent the climate, but also the local flora and fauna, as well as the agricultural methods, have changed over this long period of time. – Martin Mascher

“It was from there that grain farming originated and later spread to Europe, Asia and North Africa,” Tzion Fahima of the University of Haifa said in a release.

The barley was among tens of thousands of other plant remains found in the cave. Fahima and other researchers compared the genome with that of wild barley still found in the region, and found considerable differences.

“However, they show considerable genetic overlap with present-day domesticated lines from the region,” said Nils Stein of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research. “This demonstrates that the domestication of barley in the Fertile Crescent was already well advanced very early.”

“This similarity is an amazing finding considering to what extent the climate, but also the local flora and fauna, as well as the agricultural methods, have changed over this long period of time,” Martin Mascher of the Leibniz Institute said in the release.

The researchers said they assume that conquerors and immigrants coming to the region did not bring their own crop seeds from their former homelands, but continued cultivating the locally adapted extant landraces.