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Hunting the wild fava

Date:
December 8, 2016
Source:
Weizmann Institute of Science
Summary:
The wild faba – today, fava – bean is believed to be extinct. An expert has identified the oldest known faba beans – about 14,000 years old. Understanding how the wild fabas survived can help scientists grow hardier fava crops today. Favas are a major source of nutrition in many parts of the world
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14,000-year-old faba seeds contain clues to the timing of the plants’ domestication.
Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science

Like all food crops, the faba, or fava, bean -- a nutritious part of the diets of many cultures -- had a wild ancestor. Wild faba is presumed to be extinct, but Weizmann Institute of Science researchers have now identified 14,000-year-old remains of seeds that offer important clues as to the time and place that this plant grew naturally. Understanding the ecology of the wild plants' environment and the evolution they underwent in the course of domestication is crucial to improving the biodiversity of the modern crop. The findings were reported in Scientific Reports.

Dr. Elisabetta Boaretto, head of the "Timing of Cultural Changes" track of the Max Planck-Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology, and Dr. Valentina Caracuta, a former postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Boaretto's group who is currently a researcher at the University of Salento-Italy, had previously shown that the 10,200-year-old faba beans discovered in three archaeological sites in Lower Galilee were the earliest faba beans ever domesticated.

The new finding -- faba seeds from an archaeological site, el-Wad, on Mount Carmel in Northern Israel -- came from the earliest levels of an excavation that had been carried out by Profs. Mina Evron and Daniel Kaufman and Dr. Reuven Yeshurun, all of Haifa University. The people living at that time, the Natufians, were hunter-gathers, and thus the plants there were growing wild. Drs. Boaretto and Caracuta performed radiocarbon dating and micro-X-ray computerized tomography (CT) analysis on the preserved pieces of bean to pinpoint their age and identify them as the ancestors of the modern fava bean.

"Sometime between 11,000 and 14,000 years ago, people in this region domesticated faba -- around the same time that others farther north were domesticating wheat and barley," says Dr. Boaretto. Faba, a nutritious legume, is eaten around the world; in some places it is used for animal feed. Furthermore, it fixes nitrogen in the soil. "Understanding how this plant was adapted to the habitat of the Carmel 14,000 years ago can help us understand how to create new modern varieties that will better be able to withstand pests and tolerate environmental stress," she says.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Weizmann Institute of Science. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Valentina Caracuta, Mina Weinstein-Evron, Daniel Kaufman, Reuven Yeshurun, Jeremie Silvent, Elisabetta Boaretto. 14,000-year-old seeds indicate the Levantine origin of the lost progenitor of faba bean. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 37399 DOI: 10.1038/srep37399

Cite This Page:

Weizmann Institute of Science. "Hunting the wild fava." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 December 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161208121328.htm>.
Weizmann Institute of Science. (2016, December 8). Hunting the wild fava. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 26, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161208121328.htm
Weizmann Institute of Science. "Hunting the wild fava." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161208121328.htm (accessed May 26, 2017).

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