Modern apple’s origin traced to Kazakhstan

117 genomes of the fruit analysed

August 17, 2017 12:32 am | Updated 12:32 am IST - New York

Employees sort and pack apples at RAJPOL company, near Grojec in this August 4, 2014 file photo. As U.S. and European sanctions piled pressure on Russia earlier this year, the Kremlin hit back with an unusual weapon: apples. From Aug. 7 Russia banned imports of fruit from various countries that supported sanctions, including Poland, which has been a strong critic of Russia's actions in Ukraine. The ban had real impact: Poland is the world's biggest exporter of apples and last year sent more than $380 million worth to Russia, according to International Trade Centre figures. To match Special Report RUSSIA-CAPITALISM/APPLES      REUTERS/Filip Klimaszewski/Files   (POLAND - Tags: AGRICULTURE BUSINESS FOOD)

Employees sort and pack apples at RAJPOL company, near Grojec in this August 4, 2014 file photo. As U.S. and European sanctions piled pressure on Russia earlier this year, the Kremlin hit back with an unusual weapon: apples. From Aug. 7 Russia banned imports of fruit from various countries that supported sanctions, including Poland, which has been a strong critic of Russia's actions in Ukraine. The ban had real impact: Poland is the world's biggest exporter of apples and last year sent more than $380 million worth to Russia, according to International Trade Centre figures. To match Special Report RUSSIA-CAPITALISM/APPLES REUTERS/Filip Klimaszewski/Files (POLAND - Tags: AGRICULTURE BUSINESS FOOD)

The modern crisp apple originated in a mountainous region of Kazakhstan, according to a study which reveals a surprising two-way journey on the Silk Road for one of the world’s most popular fruit.

As travellers journeyed east and west along the Silk Road, they brought with them apple seeds from the choicest fruit they took from wild trees, researchers said.

This early selection would eventually lead to the 7,500 varieties of apple that exist today, they said.

Researchers, including those at Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) in the U.S., sequenced and compared the genomes of 117 diverse apple accessions, including Malus domestica and 23 wild species from North America, Europe, and east and central Asia.

“We narrowed down the origin of the domesticated apple from very broad central Asia to Kazakhstan area west of Tian Shan Mountain,” said Zhangjun Fei, a professor at BTI.

Researchers discovered that the first domesticated apple had travelled to the east, hybridising with local wild apples along the way, yielding the ancestors of soft, dessert apples cultivated in China today.

Researchers also found that as the apple travelled west along the Silk Road, trees grew from dropped seeds and crossed with other wild apple varieties, including the sour European crabapple ( Malus sylvestris ).

They found that Malus sylvestris has contributed so extensively to the apple’s genome that the modern apple is actually more similar to the sour crabapple than to its Kazakhstan ancestor, Malus sieversii .

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