PICS: Six everyday fruits and vegetables before and after humans changed them

2016-02-09 10:11

Cape Town – Our ancestors would have had trouble recognising some of the fruits and vegetables that we are familiar with today.

Humans have altered plants to the extent that they would never survive in the wild without human care, says Bruce Chasey from the Biotechnology Center at the University of Illinois.

“Plants such as strawberries, wheat, cabbage, corn, and almost all the rest of our crops descended from ancestors that were nothing like strawberries or wheat or corn from back in the day,” he wrote in a 2007 paper.

Technologies such as selective breeding and genetically modifying plants have been used to improve their look, taste, nutritional value, durability and to make them more resistant to diseases and pests.

Genetically engineering plants involves a faster process of gene splicing and transferring genes from one organism to another to produce desirable traits, whereas selective breeding is a more traditional method of carefully choosing crops that show required characteristics for breeding – but this process may take years.

The introduction of genetically modified foods has stirred up strong reactions but humans have been altering the genetic makeup of crops for centuries.

The debate that surrounds GM crops has largely been centred on how altered crops may affect our health and whether they are safe for humans to consume.

According to the Scientific American, there are only a tiny minority of scientists raising questions regarding the safety of GM crops.

On the other hand, campaigners for GM crops argue that the benefits of GM crops greatly outweigh the health risks, from lowering the price of food and increasing farmer safety by allowing them to use less pesticide.

Here are what some of the fruits and vegetables looked like before humans started harvesting them for food:

Wild banana vs modern banana

Wild bananas are reported to have been first cultivated at least 7 000 years ago in Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia. The modern variety that we eat today stemmed from the wild ones which had hard seeds. The hybrid of the Musa acuminate and Musa balbisiana produced the modern banana with its peelable skin and long yellow shape. The modern version also has tiny seeds compared to its ancestor, with more nutrients.

Wild watermelon vs modern watermelon

A painting from the 17th century Italian artist, Giovanni Stanchi, shows a watermelon that modern humans have never encountered. The cut watermelon appears to have red swirl shapes with black seeds (indicating its ripeness), separated into six triangular sections.

Over the years, watermelons were bred to develop a red, fleshier interior.

Wild peach vs modern peach

Peaches once looked like cherries with little flesh and they tasted “earthy and slightly salty”. After thousands of years of selective breeding by farmers, modern peaches are 64 times larger, 27% juicier and 4% sweeter.

Wild eggplant vs modern eggplant

Eggplants have historically come in various colours and shapes such as azure, white, purple and yellow and some of the earlier ones had spines where the stem connects to the flowers. The eggplants we eat today are purple and oblong, without the spines.

Wild corn vs modern corn

A staple in human agriculture, the domestication of natural corn began about 10 000 years ago. Natural corn was bred from the barely edible grass called teosinte.

The corn we eat today is about 1 000 times larger, sweeter, more peelable and easier to cultivate than its ancestor.

Wild carrot vs modern carrot

The earliest known carrots were originally purple or white with forked, spindly roots. When farmers domesticated the plant, it grew into the larger orange roots we are familiar with today.

Read more on:    cape town  |  environment

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