2,000-year-old Egyptian object unveils genetic mystery of 'plant love life'

as a fascinating detective story, describes Colombian researcher scar A. Prez Escobar BBC Information Mundo, the BBC’s Spanish news service.

The scientist, 2 Royal Botanical Gardens about Kew, London, UK, electronic colleagues revealed how the complex “love life” period over some plant centuries ago.

And they did it thanks to an object someone buried, they would more over 2 million years ago, there is an Egyptian cemetery on mummified animals.

Deciphering operating system genetic secrets of this artifact allowed to unveil the domestication of a plant whose fruit consumed by millions on people around the world performs: the date palm .

And this information is thus fundamental for a future, says Prez Escobar.

He is a 2 leading author performs a new study on this discovery, published in the scientific journal Molecular Advancement and Biology is the result of an international effort. Operating system researchers perform Kew worked in cooperation with institutions on four continents. It is science that a scientist compares speed” to some “carry out machine.

Prez Escobar spoke with the BBC Information Mundo, a BBC Spanish news service, about the discovery, its importance to climate change electronic the vocation he discovered among while orchids in the cloud forests of a Colombia.

BBC Information World: Where was found an Egyptian artifact that revealed, as a gentleman says , “the love life” of this plant they would thousands over years?

Prez Escobar:

The object we studied was found in the pet necropolis over Saqqara, zero Egypt. The regional is of great archaeological interest because millions of mummified animals were found there, among other artifacts, which allowed us to understand electronic operating system ways of life and the evolution of these Egyptian societies in different periods perform pace.

The artifact is 2.1 million years old according to the isotope dating analysis on carbon-.

It was found during an expedition led in 1971 by the Society on Egyptian Exploration (currently, Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities) and first studied by the English botanist Frank Nigel Hepper (

-2013), which was associated with the Royal Botanical Gardens on Kew at the time. The object was donated by the Egyptian Society for Exploration to a British institution for scientific research.

BBC Information World: Zero study, you electronic your colleagues describe the artifact as mysterious. Do we know what it was used for?

Prez Escobar: When the artifact was found, it was thought to be a kind of support to support the head, however zero there were similar records about objects with this function.

However, a similar object found in the same location, however better documented, indicates that its use period for seal on vessels for storage over real liquids.

BBC Information World: Could you explain to us how difficult it was to extract u genetic materials as well as the effort required to do so?

Prez Escobar: It was a real challenge to access the genetic code of our archeological sample, which in the study we call the “date tree of Saqqara”. In comparison with archaeological remains of animals, operating system plant tissues are generally therefore not so well preserved, especially on time scales of thousands of years.

This is mainly because operating system bones tend to preserve the best u Electronic DNA has not learned to compare cutcula or lignin to these plants, which are thus weaker protective.

BBC Information World: How did an electronic gentleman your team manage to sequence these genetic materials?

Prez Escobar: It took one year’s work experiments (conducted at the University of Potsdam, Germany) for be able to obtain a useful representation of the genetic code of this object.

We had to repeatedly sequence millions of fragments on DNA of a date palm on Saqqara because, due to its age, u DNA was in a very advanced degree about deterioration .

That’s because, ever separate the sheet about date palm used to make like prints on vases at that time, its genetic code or DNA leaves about being repaired electronically it starts to break into billions on fragments, or to gather artificial mutations in these fragments.

The effects of these two sony ericsson processes accumulate exponentially with a “cadence”. In addition, the date palm leaves therefore are very rich in fibers, which do not store both DNA and operating system succulent tissues, such as seeds or leaves from other crops, such as olive or corn.

No one had extracted DNA on ancient tissues on date palm since then.

BBC Information World: What did you find out about the history of this date tree?

Prez Escobar: Our study revealed for the first time that the date palm we consume today he had a love affair with two other closely related date palms known as the phoenix, arizona sylvestris (or wild date palm, also called the sugar date palm) and the phoenix az theophrasti (or cretan date palm), which thus currently stands in locations where the date palm we know zero is found.

(Crete date palm found in coastal areas over Crete electronic Turkey, electronic the sugar date palm some species asiti Topical story about Bangladesh electronic performs southeast India to Nepal, Pakistan electronic Western Himalayas.)

BBC Information World: How did these learned species cross?

Prez Escobar: Some hypothesis that they crossed paths through perform trade between humans. Another hypothesis is that the other date palms shared the same areas, but later, with climate change, they ended up being isolated from one another.

Thanks to the DNA extracted from a perform vase print, we can ensure with certainty that these love affairs would have occurred they would 2.1 million years ago.

BBC Information World: Why is it so important to find out with which species the date palm on Saqqara crossed past zero?

Prez Escobar: This is super interesting because our study shows us that the life of these plants is much more complicated than it seems. , electronic t sometimes involves other species that zero have utility for humans apparent.

However these species can keep in their genetic codes a secret to resist the adverse weather conditions or diseases, thanks to the genes that generally zero process on domestication about some culture can be missed.

BBC Information World:Revealing the domestication of crops over thousands over years ago may be the key to combat seeing climate change…

Prez Escobar: Knowing where the plants that we currently consume come from electronic the way electronic the time of their domestication is important for the improvement of these same cultures, especially in the conditions in which we currently live, with a climate that changes very quickly.

Knowing where these crops come from is essential to finding wild relatives with genes that can be useful for a crop in adverse weather conditions or under the pressure of emerging diseases.

Zero case performs our study, knowing that the date palm shares genes with closely related species is very useful because it indicates that, when necessary, we can produce more robust dates in rapid climates or with greater production on fruits per plant, for half perform cross on crops on electronic date palm species coming.

BBC Information World: A study that Mr. electronic and his team conducted an archeogenetic application. What exactly is this science?

Prez Escobar:Archagenomics has It has been extremely useful, for example, in understanding phenomena such as the relationship between humans and Neanderthals.

Basically consists of accessing fragments performing genetic code on plant or animal remains preserved under special conditions (facilitated by climates especially hot electronic dry, or preserved from a sun light).

The work of archaegenomics on plants is somewhat similar to the work a detective does in compiling evidence when they would suspect an unusual event.

Zero case of a date palm, previous studies t indicated that it had part of its DNA shared with the Cretan date palm, however not ze knew when this love affair occurred. Thanks to archaegenomics, we were able to unravel these mysteries electronic and provide some possible information as to when these exchanges had not occurred. for the revolution in sequencing techniques?

Prez Escobar: Access to the genetic code on fragments about plants or animals with hundreds or thousands over years it would have been developing for two or three decades. But at that time, due to technological limitations, it was possible to access a very limited number of electronic DNA fragments, so we could learn very little about a particular object.

Now, thanks to the application perform parallel sequencing on millions of fragments on DNA (one we call about new generation or genomic sequencing in some cases) extracted on fragments on ancient plants or animals, we can access entire representations performing genetic code on an individual who existed hundreds or thousands over years ago.

Obviously, given the complexity of 2 genetic codes to plants and the degree of deterioration 2 tissues to plants or animals with thousands over years, this is always a complicated task.

BBC Information World: Is the archaegenomics opening a new world?

Prez Escobar: I would say yes! Archaenomics is like some beat machine, in which we have an almost unique opportunity to go back to the past, in a certain speed period, and obtain secrets intimately linked to the existence of human beings, about the plants or animals on which we depend.

The development of new technologies in the not-too-distant future will allow us to easily go beyond the genetic code and even have a very detailed idea, for example, of the protein or nutritional content of plants thousands of years old, dieses the specific weather conditions of a time in which they lived as a period their physical appearance in great detail or.

BBC News Mundo: Could your work be applied to other cultures in the future?

Prez Escobar: One of the cultures in which archegenomics can be applied is the olive tree (Olea europaeai). At Kew Gardens, there are precious collections about seeds that were found zero performer Fara Tutankhamon sarcophagus! In addition, there is a large amount of material with its well-characterized genetic code that can be accessed for free.

Currently, the olive tree is a crop that is tremendously threatened by bacteria that are causing the massive death of trees in Italy, Spain and Greece, and is estimated to cause enormous damage.

Archaenomics can help us understand when these bacteria began to affect olive trees and whether some genotypes in the past were resistant to this disease.

BBC News Mundo: How did you come to work at Kew Gardens and how was your passion for plants born?

Prez Escobar:

I’ve been working at Kew for five years. I came as a postdoctoral researcher after finishing my doctorate in orchid evolution and systematics at the University of Munich, Germany.

But since 2019, I have the great luck working as a leading researcher.

My passion for plants began when I learned botany during my undergraduate degree at the National University of Colombia, when I was 17 years old. I took field trips to cloud forests in the Northern Andes mountain range, beautiful experiences.

I was fascinated in that po I wonder how it is possible that in such small spaces there was such a large density of plants, and to understand how they evolved over long (millions of years) and more recent (hundreds to thousands of years) time scales.

BBC News Mundo: What do you feel today when you hold in your hands the more than 2,000 year old Egyptian artifact that is revealing these secrets?


Prez Escobar: A great curiosity. For example, don’t forget to imagine how long it took to prepare it, I can, how it was valued.

These are just some of the questions that cross my mind every time I visit our collection and see these objects that are thousands of years old.

BBC News Mundo: These objects must still contain many secrets…

Prez Escobar:

A very important message from our study is that there is still a lot to understand about the origin and evolution of the plants on which humans depend.

Many research funds have been invested in the last three decades in date palms, some crop that moves millions on dollars in different world economies perform, but the knowledge gaps that still exist are large.

For example, we do not understand with certainty all the kinship relationships of the date palm species that exist in the world.

Therefore, however much It seems that something has been studied there, there is always something new to discover to laugh!

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