The evolutionary context of the eggplant was, until recently, very poorly known. Historical documents and genetic data have shown that the eggplant was first domesticated in Asia, but most of its wild relatives are from Africa. Researchers from the Natural History Museums of London (NHM) and Finland (University of Helsinki) have now managed to obtain the first well-supported hypothesis on the origin of the eggplant and its direct relatives. In a study published online on August 9, 2018 in the American Journal of Botany, researchers from the Natural History Museum of London (NHM) and the Finnish Museum of Natural History, University of Helsinki, have sequenced the plastomes of the eggplant and of 22 species directly related to the eggplant. (Editor’s note: Plastomes are the genome sequences of plastids, a type of organelle found in plants, in particular, the genome of the chloroplasts in photosynthetic plants.) chloroplasts.) The article is titled “Shedding New Light on the Origin and Spread of the Brinjal Eggplant (Solanum melongena L.) and Its Wild Relatives.” By comparing the plastome DNA sequences, the scientists hoped to reveal the evolutionary history of the eggplant and its wild relatives. The team obtained a well-supported hypothesis on the origin of the eggplant and its wild relatives, and showed how a single event gave rise to two lineages, one comprising an African group of species and the other the wild progenitor of the domesticated eggplant. "Nearly all species of the group of the eggplant inhabit low land savannahs and more or less arid habitats; some species are very widespread across Africa. Our results suggest that there had been a dramatic expansion of the distribution range of the group over the last two million years." says the first author of the paper, Dr. Xavier Aubriot.
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