Thursday, 13 August 2009
Review on lentil domestication
A recent review article by Sonnante, Hammer and Pignone (2009) " From the cradle of agriculture a handful of lentils: History of domestication" in the rather obscure Rendiconti Lincei of April reviews the archaeology and genetics of Lentil domestication. It provides a useful overview, including a wide range of neutral genetic evidence that confers with the orthodoxy (e.g. of Zohary and Hopf) of a single Lentil domestication somewhere in the Levant, although the authors note the possibility that pre-domestication cultivation began with more than population of Lentils, but in the end only one was domesticated. They also provide a tabulation of the identified domestication-related genes in Lentil, which have generally received less attention than those in peas or Phaeseolus, and discussion of the morphological domestication syndrome in Lentils. They some speculation on why/how people came to cultivate lentils, which remains something of mystery for this and other pulses, in which seed germination rates of wild types are so low as to make them unlikely candidates for domestication. They concur the early Near Eastern agriculture including that of Lentils did not come from a dump-heap origin, but they still suggest that wild lentils might have occurred as weeds in early cereals and thus been a co-domesticate. Given what we know of wild lentil habitats this hypothesis seems little stronger than a dump-heap model, and I must favour some sort of intentional interest in Lentils and other pusles (perhaps for their protein content, or taste, or storability) which lead early cultivators to persist in their efforts despite initially low germination rates.