Domestication and Anthropogenic Evolution Independent Research Group
One of the most critically needed research themes at hand is the study of organismal domestication and the broader process of anthropogenic evolution. As humanity pushes all life on Earth into the modern anthropogenic era, a period sometimes called the Anthropocene, all organisms are forced to evolve and adapt or go extinct. The processes of humans driving the evolution of the plants and animals around them is not exclusive to the modern world; humans have been directing aspects of evolution for millennia, and the members of this research team seek to better understand the deep history of this anthropogenic evolution.
In studying the origins of domestication and the causes of evolution in the past, we hope to better understand the future of domestication and anthropogenic evolution. The Domestication and Anthropogenic Evolution (DAE) research team is working to unify the social and biological sciences, and attempting to answer the greatest questions of the human past – questions that hold direct bearing on the human present and future. The independent group focuses on archaeobotanical methods and works on research projects across Asia and Europe, with projects expanding into the Americas. The study of human-driven evolution includes the origins of agriculture, the intensification of agricultural systems, the evolution of commensals, and the evolutionary adaptations of weeds and pests.
The domestication of plants and animals was the single most pivotal phenomenon that led humanity to what it has become. The ability to produce grain surplus is what gave certain human groups the opportunity to focus on art and intellectual thought; ultimately, humanity became behaviorally modern as a result of the mutualistic relationships it forged with certain organisms. During the Holocene, human cultural developments moved forward at a nearly exponential rate; the associated innovations are a direct result of increased food production and stability. Food surplus not only allowed members of these groups to focus their time on the arts and sciences but also supported an accompanying demographic transition.
The study of the history of human-driven evolution is the study of what made humans ‘human’. In a broader sense, human-driven evolution encompasses the relationships that you have with your own micro-ecosystems and the wild ecosystems around you. At its core, the study of domestication is the study of the origins of the food you eat, the clothes you wear, your pets, and even the microorganisms that aid you in the digestion of your food. Understanding the path organisms took towards domestication provides us with a greater appreciation and emotional connection to our ancestors. The food we eat today contains the genetic and phenotypic legacy of roughly 500 generations of people over 10,000 summer planting seasons. In this regard, an apple or a grain of wheat is an archaeological artifact that, if properly studied, can tell scientists more about humanity than any archaeological excavation or linguistic or genetic study. The DAE is serving to unify existing research agendas across Jena and globally.
Researchers in the DAE group are mingling archaeobotanical data with genetics, historical sources, art history, and linguistics to better understand the ways humans have driven evolution in the past. They are particularly interested in knowing how intentional some of the past evolutionary processes of domestication were. Additionally, the team is trying to favor less studied plants and animals; for example, they are interested in long-generation perennials, such as apples and pistachios, or lesser studied grains, such as the millets and quinoa. The team is also looking at commensal animals and agricultural pests. The DAE team is also focusing on a better understanding of the ways that evolution unfolds in the wild, especially in tight non-human-based mutualisms, as examples of parallelism to domestication.
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