It’s hard to imagine a time before, at least, threshing machines. But the evolution of wheat is long, and complex.
“Not many people know about the origin of wheat,” says Mazen Aljarrah, plant breeder at the Field Crop Development Centre in Lacombe, in the following video. “Actually, it started maybe 10,000 years ago through a spontaneous cross happened between three different grasses.”
According to Aljarrah, it was those years ago that Einkorn (Triticum monococcum) provided the ‘A’ genome, and a type of Aigelops, or ancient wheat, provided the ‘B’ genome. Another wild diploid wheat provided the ‘D’ genome later, for those species with all three. These crosses (plus years of speciation) ultimately resulted in a cultivated tetraploid wheat (Emmer wheat) and what we know as bread wheat today — the hexaploid Triticum aestivum.
Aljarrah was one of the presenters at this year’s Lacombe Field Day, where he showed attendees much of the evolution of wheat through species growing right on site. The FCDC keeps a seedbank of what Aljarrah calls the “old landraces”. This is done not just to preserve the history of one of the world’s most important crops, but also, to potentially provide genes to modern varieties.
“For example, if you look over there, we have…high infection of stripe rust,” says Aljarrah, pointing to a plot some distance off. “Some of the newer varieties, they got infection with strip rust, but some…like spelt…they are still showing high level of resistance to stripe rust.”
Aljarrah emphasizes that old landraces have unique genes, and thus, there is great importance in keeping the species around and continuing phenotypic research.