People, Plants & Genes: The Story of Crops and Humanity

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OUP Oxford, Jul 19, 2007 - Nature - 401 pages
This book provides a comprehensive interdisciplinary overview of human-plant interactions and their social consequences from the hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic Era to the 21st century molecular manipulation of crops. It links the latest advances in molecular genetics, climate research and archaeology to give a new perspective on the evolution of agriculture and complex human societies across the world. Even today, our technologically advanced societies still rely on plants for basic food needs, not to mention clothing, shelter, medicines and tools. This special relationship has tied together people and their chosen plants in mutual dependence for well over 50,000 years. Yet despite these millennia of intimate contact, people have only domesticated and cultivated a few dozen of the tens of thousands of potentially available edible plants. This limited domestication process led directly to the evolution of the complex urban-based societies that have dominated much of human development over the past ten millennia. Thanks to the latest genomic studies, we can now begin to explain how, when, and where some of the most important crops came to be domesticated, and the crucial roles of plant genetics, climatic change and social organisation in these processes. Indeed, it was their unique genetic organisations that ultimately determined which plants eventually became crops, rather than any conscious decisions by their human cultivators. The book is aimed at a wide audience ranging from plant specialists such as geneticists, molecular biologists and agronomists to a more general readership of archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and others who wish to explore the complex processes that have shaped the often crucial relationships between plants and human societies over the past hundred millennia.
 

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Contents

Crops and genetics 90 million years of plant evolution
53
People and plants in prehistoric times ten millennia of climatic and social change
107
People and plants in historic times globalization of agriculture and the rise of science
219
Notes
288
Bibliography
339
Index
391
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About the author (2007)


Denis J Murphy is Professor of Biotechnology and Head of the Biotechnology Unit at the University of Glamorgan in Wales, UK, and also works as a government advisor in the areas of agriculture and biotechnology in the UK and overseas. He has broad interests in research and education, including running a schools outreach programme, and frequently participates in public debates on scientific issues ranging from stem cells & cloning to GM crops & organic farming.