Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Where does the modern apple originally come from?

Speaking of Apple, who knew that the ubiquitous domestic apple originally hails from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, up in the foothills of the snow-capped Tian Shan Mountains? Malus sieversii, or the wild apple, is in fact THE original wild apple, the apple from which Malus domestica was developed after centuries of cultivation, replanting, experimentation and grafting. And Malus sierversii comes from, and can still be found in, the forests of Trans-Ili Alatau in the Tian Shan Mountains.
This genetic link was first identified by Russian scientist Nicolai Vavilov back in 1929, based on his idea that the centre of origin of a species occurs at the place where it achieves its greatest genetic diversity. He was foresighted enough to ensure that several sieversii seeds were included in one of the world's first gene banks, in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Long after Vavilov's death from starvation in a Soviet gulag, his idea has been confirmed by modern genetics. The gene bank now carries Vavilov's name, the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry (VIR in Russian).
Malus sieversii itself, though, is under threat. It is currently listed as "vulnerable" and "decreasing" by the ICUN Red List, and the remaining forests in the Trans-Ili Alatau region are under pressure from residential and commercial development, livestock farming and deforestation, although there are international efforts (spearheaded by Italy's Slow Food Foundation) to protect what remains.
So, next time you crunch into a juicy apple, you might just think of Kazakhstan.

No comments: