Bottle gourds traveled the Atlantic Ocean from Africa and were likely domesticated many times in various parts of the New World, according to a team of scientists who studied bottle gourd genetics to show they have an African, not Asian ancestry.
"Beginning in the 1950s we thought that bottle gourds floated across the ocean from Africa," said Logan Kistler, post-doctoral researcher in anthropology, Penn State. "However, a 2005 genetic study of gourds suggested an Asian origin."
Domesticated bottle gourds are ubiquitous around the world in tropical and temperate areas because, while they are edible when young, the mature fruit make ideal lightweight, waterproof, liquid-carrying vessels. They were popular in areas either before development of ceramics or where ceramics never developed.
The 2005 study looked only at targeted sequence markers that turned out not to be informative on the population level, said Kistler. Now we can do sequencing of the large single copy area of the plastid genome, which is about 86,000 base pairs of DNA, he added.
Unlike animals, which have two types of DNA -- nuclear and mitochondrial -- plant cells have three types of DNA -- nuclear, mitochondrial and plastid. Animal mitochondrial DNA is often used in genetic studies because it is completely inherited from the mother and changes very slowly, but in plants, mitochondrial DNA is prone to structural rearrangements, while often carrying a slow mutation rate. The DNA found in plastids such as the organelles that perform photosynthesis and create starch or pigments, is a better choice for plants because it does not recombine, but it mutates fast enough for population-level studies.
The researchers, who report their results in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at 36 modern samples of bottle gourd and 9 ancient samples. They found that all the ancient bottle gourds from the Americas that were tes
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