Research ArticlePLANT SCIENCES

Origins and insights into the historic Judean date palm based on genetic analysis of germinated ancient seeds and morphometric studies

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Science Advances  05 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 6, eaax0384
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aax0384


Germination of 2000-year-old seeds of Phoenix dactylifera from Judean desert archaeological sites provides a unique opportunity to study the Judean date palm, described in antiquity for the quality, size, and medicinal properties of its fruit, but lost for centuries. Microsatellite genotyping of germinated seeds indicates that exchanges of genetic material occurred between the Middle East (eastern) and North Africa (western) date palm gene pools, with older seeds exhibiting a more eastern nuclear genome on a gradient from east to west of genetic contributions. Ancient seeds were significantly longer and wider than modern varieties, supporting historical records of the large size of the Judean date. These findings, in accord with the region’s location between east and west date palm gene pools, suggest that sophisticated agricultural practices may have contributed to the Judean date’s historical reputation. Given its exceptional storage potentialities, the date palm is a remarkable model for seed longevity research.

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