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Biomolecular investigation on archaeological grape seeds: a genetic time capsule from the past (Time capsule)
Start date: 01 Jun 2009, End date: 31 May 2011 PROJECT  FINISHED 

The introduction of agriculture represented a major breakthrough for the development of human civilisation. The accumulation of excesses of food resources enabled for the growth of more complex socio-political entities, but it also required a continuous process of selection by controlled breeding. This process, tremendously successful at increasing food production, conversely led to a consistent decline in genetic diversity. Research into ancient biomolecules, however, allows the recovery and analysis of old genetic data, which can often be resolved in both time and space, adding a new dimension to the investigation of the dynamics of plant selection and of their ‘lost’ genetic diversity. Deposits of seeds, found in archaeological contexts, represent natural time-capsules, transporting genetic information from the past to be analysed in the present. This project will investigate seeds of the Vitis vinifera species: grapevine. From grape comes wine, which arguably represents one of the most important products of plant domestication during the development of human civilisation, at least in western Eurasia. It is intimately bound up with the expansion of agriculture, trade and commerce, and it also has great importance in socio-religious, cultural and political aspects of many societies, particularly in the Mediterranean area. Ancient DNA from grape seeds will be investigated exploiting the new ‘high-throughput’ DNA sequencing techniques and the recently acquired knowledge of the grape genome.
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