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Historians often trace the dawn of human civilization back 10,000 years, when Neolithic tribes first settled and began farming in the Fertile Crescent, which stretches through much of what we now call the Middle East. Prehistoric peoples domesticated plants to create the cereal crops we still grow today, and in the Zagros mountains of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, sheep, goats and cows were bred from their wild relatives to ensure a steady supply of meat and milk. But around the same time as plants and animals were tamed for agriculture, long before anyone even knew of microscopic life, early humans were domesticating microbes too.
In a paper published in Current Biology, we discovered how "milk yeast"—the handy microorganism that can decompose lactose in milk to create dairy products like cheese and yogurt—originated from a chance encounter between a fruit fly and a pail of milk around 5,500 years ago. This happy accident allowed prehistoric people to domesticate yeast in much the same way they domesticated crop plants and livestock animals, and produce the cheeses and yogurts billions of people enjoy today.
Domestication - Evolution - Hand - Parents - Farmers
Domestication is evolution directed by a human hand. After wild parents have bred, farmers retain the offspring with properties that are beneficial for future breeding. Take farmed wheat, for example. This crop species produces a lot more seeds than wild grasses do, because these seeds are the grain that humans harvest. Early farmers deliberately bred pairs of wheat plants that produced lots of grain so that their offspring would inherit this trait. As these pairings were repeated over many generations, grain-rich descendants were gradually created.
It's survival of the fittest, but the fittest are variants that have characteristics that are useful for humans. The wary and vicious wolf becomes the friendly and obedient dog.
Farmers - Practice - Microbes
Neolithic farmers stumbled on the practice of domesticating microbes...
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