Population genetics of Mediterranean and Saharan olives

Where do olives come from?

An analysis of patterns of genetic differentiation finds evidence of reciprocal gene exchanges between populations of Mediterranean and Saharan olives.

Immature Green Olives Olives have a long and complex history. The origins of the Mediterranean cultivated olive (Olea europaea subsp. europaea) are hotly debated, but it is usually accepted that its domestication started in the Levant based on archaeological, historical and molecular evidence. Multiple local selections of cultivars has been suggested by genetic analyses, followed by secondary diversification of the crop followed the oleiculture diffusion over the whole Mediterranean basin. The contribution of western wild olives in this diversification process remains poorly understood.

A recent paper in Annals of Botany describes patterns of genetic differentiation in Mediterranean and Saharan olives, and tests for admixture between these taxa. Based on the results, the human-meditated diffusion of the oleiculture over the Mediterranean basin and the contribution of O. europaea subsp. laperrinei to the cultivated olive diversification are discussed. Although its genetic contribution is limited, it is clear from this work that Laperrine’s olive has been involved in the diversification of cultivated olives.


AJ Cann

Alan Cann is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester and formerly Internet Consulting Editor for AoB.

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