Long Running Legume

'' The chickpeas in your hummus got their start 10,000 years ago. ''

When you open a can of chickpeas and fish out the nutty, savory little beans, you're partaking in a history that began around 10,000 years ago.

The chicken peas ancestor, a wild Middle Eastern plant that most likely had tiny, hard seeds, was cultivated by humans around the same time as wheat and barley and began to evolve as early farmers selected plants with larger and more succulent seeds.

Archeologists have found what appeared to be domesticated chickpeas beneath Jericho in the West Bank, buried so deep in the passage of time that they would have been grown even before the inhabitants of one of history's longest-occupied cities began to make pottery.

The humble chickpea has had a somewhat rocky road to its present popularity, however. A new study sequences the genomes of more than 3,000 examples, making it one of the largest plant genome sequencing efforts ever completed.

The researchers believe that after chickpeas were first domesticated in Turkey's southeastern Anatolia region, their cultivation may have stagnated for millenniums, resulting in a genetic bottleneck that makes all chickpeas of today descendants of a relatively small group from a thousand years ago.

Modern varieties are low in genetic diversity, which means that they are at risk of failing under the stress of climate change. [ Veronique Greenwood ]


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