Kazakhstan the home of the apple
The apple originates from Kazakhstan, it has been discovered after the first complete sequencing of its genome. Almaty, whose old name 'Alma-Ata’ means 'father of apples’ in Kazakh, has claimed the honour of being birthplace of the apple for more than a hundred years.
It does so on the grounds that 'Malus Sieversii’, the wild variety that grows on the slopes of the nearby Tien Shan mountains, is the apple’s true ancestor.
Recent studies have cast doubt on the claim however, drawing attention to greater similarities between the domestic apple, Malus Domestica, and a European variety, Malus Sylvestris.
Riccardo Velasco, who published the study’s conclusions in the journal Nature Genetics, said his study finally laid the controversy to rest.
“It is only now that we have the genome, and consequently the possibility of choosing the absolutely appropriate DNA regions, that it can be stated now that Malus Sieversii is absolutely the closest relative to Domestica. Kazakhstan can be simply proud of it. I hope it will be received as great news.”
Carl Friedrich von Ledebour, a Estonian biologist, was the first scientist to stumble upon the abundant wild apple forests of the Tien Shan mountains in the early 1830s, and the Almaty’s claim was given weight a century later by eminent Soviet biologist Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, who made a huge contribution to the understanding of the origins of crops, before falling victim to Stalin’s purges.
But a 2006 study, published in the journal Molecular Ecology, used DNA analysis to point out several ways in which Europe’s wild Sylvestris variety is in fact closer to the domestic apple than the Kazakh apple.
However, Mr Velasco said that this and studies like it, had only compared partial sequences of the different varieties’ DNA.
Now the entire genome had been sequenced, it was possible for his team to compare 23 different genes, and so prove conclusively that the Kazakh apple had the closest genetic profile to the domestic apples.
China, which shares the Tien Shan mountains with Kazakhstan, in January applied to UN cultural body UNESCO to have its stretch of the mountain range declared a World Heritage Site, citing its wild apple forests.
Mr Velasco said he believed that Kazakhstan should seek a similar status for its own forests.