3. What fruits are we eating? How have men bred the fruits for food?

All veggies on our plates are not fruits, but some of them are and you may not know about them. Can you guess? Men have bred the plants to be edible. Let’s compare ancient and modern crops.

Topic introduction
2. How are fruits produced?
4. Role of the plant hormones

In botany, a fruit is a structure bearing seeds in flowering plants, formed by the ovary after pollination of the flower and fertilization of the seeds. All the details are in Chapter 1. So, not all fruits are edible, as the primary function of the fruit is to carry, protect and dissipate the seeds. However, humans and animals use fruits as food. In daily language usage, fruit designs a fleshy plant structure, sweet or sour, that can be eaten raw (apple, grapes, peach, cherry). But nuts, wheat, tomatoes, zucchinis, corn kernels, peas, and beans are also fruits.

Can you say what plant part you are eating in those veggies?

Quiz – What part do we eat from these veggies?

History of breeding

Plant breeding aims to produce plant varieties more useful for human consumption by increasing yield and quality, improving disease resistance, drought, frost, flood resistance, etc. It has been crucial for increasing crop production in response to increased food demand, notably in the 1960s. This has been referred to as the Green Revolution. The development by Norman Borlaug of semi-dwarf wheat and rice with high yield saved people from starvation.

Did you know about the Green Revolution and Norman Borlaug?

From the 1950s, countries faced the problem of having enough food for the growing population. Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist (1914-2009), received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970 for his work on plant breeding to increase agriculture production in the 1950s and 1960s. He developed a new variety of wheat, adapted to growing conditions in Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s. With the new varieties of wheat, Mexico became self-sufficient in wheat grains in 1956. Self-sufficiency means that the country was producing enough grains to feed the Mexican population without importing more cereals from other countries. These varieties were high yield (producing many grains), semi-dwarf, and resistant to disease.

He worked with other countries to help them developing their food production to sustain the population growth. He introduced semi-dwarf wheat in India and Pakistan in the mid-1960s, which increased their crop production. From his work on securing enough food for everyone came the expression “Green Revolution.” By developing these new varieties, he contributed to world peace by saving people from starvation. We speak of food security. This is why Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970 because there are still no Nobel Prizes for Biology and Agronomy.

Adapting wild plant for food have been done for many years. It started with the domestication of the first agricultural plants by human farmers more than 10 000 years ago. Early farmers selected food plants for traits of interest. And generation after generation, those plants changed to accumulate a variety of characteristics selected by men. Close varieties were crossed to combine those desired traits in one single plant. We speak of hybridization. This phenomenon was later studied by the Czech monk J. G. Mendel, father of Genetics.

Breeding of the wild mustard

For example, farmers selected at least six plants from the wild mustard Brassica oleracea by breeding for different traits. The selection for larger flower buds led to the development of cauliflower and broccoli. The selection for leaves and leaf buds led to Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale.

For every vegetable we are eating, a wild variety has been bred to remove unwanted characters, keep and improve desired traits. For example, removing seeds, removing bitterness, increase the size of the fruit, etc.

Match ancient wild varieties with the ones we are eating now

Can you recognize the difference and the traits that were selected?

Quiz - What is the origin of our food?

The fruits we eat have been bred from wild species. Would you know the origin of what you eat?

The work of J. G. Mendel in traits selection

In the mid-1800s, J. G. Mendel studied the segregation of traits using garden peas and bees. He used plant varieties with different traits: green and yellow peas, round and shriveled peas, the shape of the pea pods, the position of the flowers on the stem, size of the plants. And by crossing them and counting the segregation of those specific traits among generations, J. G. Mendel discovered the principles of heredity. The laws of genetic inheritance established by Mendel helped to improve plant breeding further. These laws were further confirmed in the 1900s after the discovery of DNA and chromosomes.

To know more about genetics, segregation of traits, and how this is important during reproduction and breeding, have a look in Chapter 5.

 Find out more: J. G. Mendel

Did you know that J. G. Mendel, father of Genetics, did his experiments in Brno? Watch this video.

Find out more: Virtual tour of the Monastery and Muzeum

In the Monastery on Mendlovo namesti in Brno, there is the Mendel Muzeum. You can find out more about the life and the discovery of J. G. Mendel and the experience he did that let him discover the segregation of traits.

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