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Sequencing Barley: Scientists study the DNA of 6000 years old plant genome

Researchers have studied the DNA of 6000 years old barley seeds, making these the oldest plant genome to be reorganized to date.

The 6,000-year-old Chalcolithic barley grains was found in Yoram cave Israel, near the Dead Sea. The Chalcolithic barley reveal the grain as it was prior to its use in the bronze-making process.

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“These archaeological remains provided a unique opportunity for us to finally sequence a Chalcolithic plant genome,” Ehud Weiss, an archaeobotanist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, said in a news release. “The genetic material has been well-preserved for several millennia due to the extreme dryness of the region.”

Wheat and barley were first cultivated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, the ancient cradle of civilization that included the people of Mesopotamia and the Levant –  a region encompassing modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Egypt.

Up to this day, the wild forms of these two crops persist in the region and are among the major model species studied at the Institute of Evolution at the University of Haifa.

The results of the genomic analysis reveal a sharp contrast between the ancient grains and wild barley found in the Middle East today. The analysis also revealed strong similarities between ancient and modern barley strains.

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“This similarity is an amazing finding considering to what extent the climate, but also the local flora and fauna, as well as the agricultural methods, have changed over this long period of time,” said Martin Mascher, a scientist with the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research.

Mascher is the lead author of a new paper detailing the ancient barley genome. The paper was published this week in the journal Nature Genetics.

“For us, ancient DNA works like a time capsule that allows us to travel back in history and look into the domestication of crop plants at distinct time points in the past,” said Johannes Krause, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena.

“This is just the beginning of a new and exciting line of research,” predicted the second lead author of the study, Dr. Verena Schuenemann, from Tuebingen University, “DNA-analysis of archaeological remains of prehistoric plants will provide us with novel insights into the origin, domestication and spread of crop plants,” she added.

The research has been published in the online version of the journal ‘Nature Genetics’.


Peace-lover, creative, smart and intelligent. Prapti is a foodie, music buff and a travelholic. After leaving a top-notch full time corporate job, she now works as an Online Editor for Biotecnika. Keen on making a mark in the scientific publishing industry, she strives to find a work-life balance. Follow her for more updates!