What are the characteristics of the so-called palms of Judea that bore its fruits to the people of the southern Levant in ancient times? The genome sequencing of seven “standing” samples has now provided insight into this question. It grew from seeds that are more than 2000 years old and come from different ancient locations and times. According to genetic comparisons, palm trees in Judea were comparable to today’s versions. Interestingly, however, the increasing intersections of some history lines became apparent over time, which could be related to cultural influences from the West.
Palm (Phoenix dactyliferaOne of the most important crops in the southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. It is believed that its cultivation began about 7,000 years ago in the Arabian Gulf region and then spread to the West. This is how the important agricultural areas arose in ancient times in Israel today around the city of Jericho and along the Dead Sea. The so-called Judean Dates from there were described as particularly large and sweet. But knowledge about local agriculture and palm trees was lost, because as part of the turmoil in the region, date plantations disappeared in late antiquity.
Awake from a sound sleep
The ancient palm trees of Judea were initially thought to be extinct – but that changed in 2005: A research team successfully germinated a 2,000-year-old date seed found in the famous rock fortress of Masada. As they explain, this is made possible thanks to the amazing vitality of the date seeds as well as the favorable preservation conditions. Meanwhile, the young plant has evolved into a male palm called “Methuselah”. The team can also point to further successes in “awakening” ancient date seeds: they have successfully germinated six other samples from a batch of date seeds found in Masada, Qumran and Wadi Makoukh. The resulting plants were given the biblical names Hanna, Adam, Judith, Boaz, Jonah and Uriel and have since been planted outdoors.
By dating the seeds with radiocarbon dating, the researchers were also able to narrow the time that their parent plants lived. So they came from different periods in the time window of the fourth century BC. BC to the 2nd century AD As part of the current study, researchers led by Michael Boruganan of New York University have now genome sequenced all seven palm trees in Judea. They refer to their approach as the “resurrection genome”: they compared the data obtained with each other and with the genetic information from the date palm today in order to reveal the distinguishing characteristics.
Resurrection Genome with Potential
As they report, genetic studies initially showed that surprising few mutations were caused by the seed’s long hibernation. When comparing the genomes, it is found that the oldest specimens from the fourth to the first centuries BC are similar to the date varieties in Western Asia today. Palm trees from the 2nd century BC By contrast, researchers write that there is an increasing genetic relationship with palm trees in North Africa today through the second century AD. According to the researchers, the seven palm trees in Judea do not actually form a common identity due to genetic differences. Borujanan and colleagues wrote: “In this respect, the name Judean palm may not represent a specific hereditary group, but it does indicate ancestry.”
As they explain, the critical aspect of the genetic mutation from an eastern to North African / Western character in Judean palms is characterized by genetic traceability: modern North African trees exhibit hybridization characteristics between date palms. Phoenix dactylifera and the wild Cretan palm Phoenix theophrastic. The results now indicate that the genome of the Cretan palm found its way into the genome of the Judean palm about 2,200 years ago. They suspect that the gene increase of P. theophrasti is due to the increasing cultural influence of the West and especially the Romans in the eastern Mediterranean.
“We are fortunate that palm seeds can survive for a long time in the arid environment of the region – in this case more than 2,000 years – and then germinate with minimal DNA damage,” Borujanan says. The researcher summarizes: “Our approach has proven to be an effective method for studying the genetics and evolution of earlier and possibly extinct plant strains such as the Judean palm.” He also sees far-reaching potential in the resurrection genomics process: “By reviving biological materials such as germination of ancient seeds from archaeological sites, fossil sites, or historical collections, we can not only examine the genomes of the lost population, but in some cases we can also rediscover lost genes. In modern varieties, “Borujanan says.
Source: New York University, Professional Article: PNAS, doi: 10.1073 / pnas.2025337118