by Anne Munier
Thousands of years ago, in what is now Mexico, people chewed a wild grass called teosinte, enjoying the sweet juice from the stalks. The plant was short and bushy-looking, with lots of stems going every which way. People didn’t bother much with the seeds, because they were covered by a hard, protective case.
But every once in a while a mutation -- or unexpected slipup in the plant’s genetic structure -- came along, and suddenly some plants appeared without seed casings. This wasn’t great news for the plant -- animals could eat and digest these unprotected seeds, so the plant was less likely to reproduce. It was pretty good news for people though, who got to finally taste the seeds!
|Teosinte seed head. Photo credit: Two Row Times|
|Hard little teosinte seeds. Photo Credit: Two Row Times|
|Lots of changes on the journey from teosinte to corn! Check out how large the cob is compared to a coin. Photo credit: Nicole Roger Fuller, National Science Foundation|
|Wild relatives of modern potatoes. Photo by L. Salazar|
|A commercially-sold banana beside a wild relative. Photo by A. D'Hont|
|Carrots still look much like wild carrots, though larger and juicy!|
(Traditional knowledge has many stories for the origin of corn/maize, taro, camas, and other important foods. Some of these stories are shared in books and online resources. Indigenous people keep this traditional knowledge as part of culture, history, and how the world is understood.)