London: Agricultural decisions made by our ancestors more than 10,000 years ago could hold the key to food security in the future, according to a new research by the University of Sheffield.
Scientists - looking at why the first arable farmers chose to domesticate some cereal crops and not others - studied those crops that originated in the Fertile Crescent, an arc of land in western Asia from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.
They grew wild versions of what are now staple foods like wheat and barley along with other grasses from the region to identify the traits that make some plants suitable for agriculture, including how much edible seed the grasses produced and their architecture.
"Our results surprised us because numerous other grasses that our ancestors ate but we do not can produce just as much seed as wild wheat and barley," said Catherine Preece from the department of animal and plant sciences and the department of archaeology.
It is only when these plants are grown at high densities, similar to what we would find in fields, that the advantage of wild wheat and barley is revealed, she said.
The results are important because our expanding human population is putting increasing demands on food production.
"If we can understand what traits have made some grasses into good crops then we can look for those characteristics in other plants and perhaps identify good candidates for future domestication," Preece said.
So far, the researchers have been conducting their experiments in greenhouses.
The results indicate that the traits affecting how plants compete with each other are crucial factors to determining the success of a crop.