MONTPELLIER, FRANCE—Science Magazinereports that a recent genetic survey shows that yams, a key crop in African agriculture, were first domesticated in the Niger River basin.
A team led by France’s Institute for Research and Development plant geneticist Nora Scarcelli sequenced 167 genomes of wild and domesticated yams collected from West African countries such as Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, and Cameroon.
They found that yams were domesticated from the forest species D. praehensilis.
Researchers had believed yams may have been domesticated from a different species that thrives in Africa’s tropical savanna.
Previous genetic studies have shown that African rice and the grain pearl millet were also domesticated in the Niger River basin.
The finding that yams were first farmed there supports the theory that the region was an important cradle of African agriculture, much like the Fertile Crescent in the Near East.
To read about recent research into ancient microbial DNA, go to “Worlds Within Us.”