Wheat Mutated to Survive

A short break from complaints about labelling, which crisps or bread are the best and problems with prescriptions...

Most of us have read stories about the origins of wheat, ancient civilizations and how Coeliacs are probably related to people who didn't settle and grow crops but carried on being hunter-gatherers and migrated north.

I was just watching Ian Stewarts How to Grow a Planet on BBC2. Almost at the very end you see him wandering around the site of an ancient 10,000 year old civilization somewhere around where Turkey is now. He explains why people settled there instead of continuing to roam around, hunting animals and gathering fruit and roots. Up to that time there was an ancient form of wheat, but it was not possible to harvest it because if the ripe plant was shaken the seeds fell off into the dirt and were lost.

A genetic mutation occurred which caused the cells linking the seeds to the stem to strengthen, preventing the seeds from falling off easilly. Human beings realised they could grow and harvest this freak of nature and make flour and bread from it. Bread being compact, nutritional and transportable encouraged development of the settlements.

Without humans, the mutated wheat would not have been able to survive

Stewarts final words on the subject was along the lines, " Is the wheat using people, or are people using the wheat"

Our ancient relatives, of course, left camp just before someone picked up that first ear of mutated wheat, shook it, and gazed in awe at the seeds, still stuck to the stem....

7 Replies

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  • Interesting observations but man has done much more to wheat since then. I thought that you may be interested in checking out the following pieces of information. The first is rather lengthy and technical but is worth taking a look at and I found it more surprising than I thought it would be:

    ejb.ucv.cl/content/vol4/iss...

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triti...

  • Glad the tribbles got a mention. One of my favourite Star Trek episodes, that! :-)

  • Quite frightening Star Trek stuff! Interbreding, cross-breeding ... I remember an article in the papers, many years ago where someone allegedly claimed to have engineered the genes of a human with a tobacco plant and the object (semi plant, semi person ... I don't know how anyone could describe such a dreadful thing to do) had lived. Whether or not this was just press mischief or whether it really happened in a lab somewhere, I do not know but the thought of what engineering can be done in the plant world alone is truly dreadful.

  • Yes, indeed - the other famous one is the spider-goats from California. Where spider DNA has been inserted into goats which look and behave like normal goats - their milk contains a protein which allows them to extract spider silk. They are testing it to scale up commercially to use in wound dressings and the like.

    Actually, sounds awful, but these are gene fragments and the bit of human DNA inserted into the tobacco gene is no more a person than an ashtray is. Its fragments of proteins.

    Good practical uses are the ability to insert DNA into immune cells to allow them to selectively attack cancer, etc. The media image is a bit blown out of proportion.

  • We know the Ancient Greeks recognised and named coeliac disease, and I dont think they were much into playing around with genes, so any mutation or cross-breeding in grass seeds that had occured up until then must have occurred naturally, without human intervention.

    Clever, clever wheat. One day it will work out how to scatter its own seeds and won't need humans any more, then it will wipe us inferior humans out by creating a disease.

    Silly idea? Maybe. But in the same program, Ian Stewart showed how grass is able to spread and kill trees by its tendency to give off volatile gases when heated. Lighting strikes start grass fires. The gases are given off and they rise 2 metres into the air where they burn so fiercly that they burn any trees that might be in the area. The grass roots survive the heat and it quickly regrows. Thus, grass has a major advantage over trees, and it takes over the land. Perfectly natural, but very fiendish.

  • It's a sad thought though, Philaustin that if the grasses took over the earth and killed off all of the trees, wouldn't the grass itself die out with the shortage of oxygen? May be the grasses are just too clever for that. Let's hope so!

    On the other point you mentioned about the Ancient Greeks, well perhaps it was more rare in those days to develop coeliac disease. In many ancient cultures mother's breastfed their babies for much longer than is usual today and solid food, in most cases wasn't introduced until a baby was sitting upright.

    When I was a baby however, mothers tried to begin weaning often from about six or seven weeks .... oh those dreaded rusks have a lot to answer for both loaded with wheat and sugar, I believe. Early weaning during war time was often done with a type of sop made from bread soaked in cows milk and people not being taught nutrition often sprinkled sugar on both babies and young children's food. Weaning early was thought of as being a good thing as it made a baby sleep through the night and made them contended so it was easy to see why they thought it was sensible to do. I can remember when children dipped celery in sugar to get a child to eat it and I remember quite well how one young girl would take a mint stem rinse it in water and dip it in sugar and eat it.

  • I thought green plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, combine the carbon with the hydrogen in the water from the roots to make plant material (hydrocarbons) and give out oxygen.

    Once upon a time there were only plants. Then there were animals and plants. One day there will only be plants again, and wheat will be there.

    As children in the 50's ( the war ended in 45) our bedtime drink was always a cup of hot milk with sugar, with bread broken up in it. Bread and sugar was a common bedtime meal. Fruit only appeared at Christmas or if you were ill.

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