`Origins of Domesticated Olive Tree Revealed - Olive Oil Times

Origins of Domesticated Olive Tree Revealed

Feb. 13, 2013
Costas Vasilopoulos

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A new study pub­lished in the Proceedings of the Royal Society sheds light on when and where the olive tree was domes­ti­cated (mean­ing the prop­a­ga­tion of the best cul­ti­vated geno­types) and became the source of today’s much val­ued edi­ble olives and olive oil.

Scientists exam­ined the DNA of 1,797 wild and cul­ti­vated trees from the Mediterranean basin and, by ana­lyz­ing the genomes, were able to cre­ate the geneal­ogy of the trees and deter­mine how the olive tree dis­sem­i­na­tion pro­gressed. Three basic ances­tral gene pools’ of the olive tree were iden­ti­fied, namely the Near East, the area of the Aegean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar.

According to the study, the degree of diver­si­fi­ca­tion of plas­tids (com­part­ments of the plant cells con­tain­ing chem­i­cal com­pounds) between wild and cul­ti­vated olives indi­cated that the trans­for­ma­tion of the wild olive to the tame one first occurred in the north­east­ern Levant area of the Near East, more likely at the bor­ders of Syria and Turkey, and then spread to the neigh­bor­ing ter­ri­to­ries and the whole basin.


Although this genetic diver­sity is higher in the Strait of Gibraltar pop­u­la­tion of trees, the then advanced civ­i­liza­tions occu­py­ing the Levant ter­ri­tory were more com­pe­tent and had enough genetic resources to suc­ceed in domes­ti­cat­ing the olive tree. The domes­ti­ca­tion process took place approx­i­mately 6,000 years ago, though there is evi­dence wild olive trees were used since the Neolithic Era, the study said.

The main dif­fer­ence between the wild and the cul­ti­vated olive tree is the big­ger and juicier fruits of the lat­ter, and it seems that the whole domes­ti­ca­tion process required a great deal of time and many genetic exchanges between the trees to mate­ri­al­ize.

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