subject: agriculture

Dairy Pastoralism in Mongolia Began at Least 3,300 Years Ago

Dairy Pastoralism in Mongolia Began at Least 3,300 Years Ago

People have been migrating since the dawn of human existence. It’s in our nature to survive and that drove generations of ancient humans to walk to nearly all corners of the world. The history of human migration is inscribed in detail within the DNA code of modern-day people. It is a fantastic book to read, full of drama and intrigue. One chapter contains descriptions of an ancient population migration into Europe that resulted in major cultural changes. Scientists recently concluded that the Eurasian steppe was the ancient cradle for today’s European populations and it was also one of the primary origins of dairy pastoralism. How and why ancient Eurasian populations migrated into Europe are being revealed by scientists using new technologies that trace massive ancient population migrations, changes in diets, and the movement of dairy pastoralism beginning about 4,500 years ago. The scientists along the way have answered one of the most debated questions of history. How did new ideas, especially knowledge of dairying, spread in ancient populations? Was it due to population migration and then replacement of indigenous populations or the adoption of new ideas taken from neighbors? The answer is both, but in different places. Read More...

Ancient DNA Provides the Clue to Modern Cattle

Modern dairy cows are as elite as Olympic athletes. They are champion milk producers and enable humans to turn fodder into dairy food with incredible efficiency. Underlying this performance is thousands of years of selection and improved management practices. Initially, the selection process was farmer driven and resulted in the development of many cattle breeds, but since the mid 20th century, when coordinated efforts by farmer groups and the dairy industry focused attention on the best methods to achieve improvements in production, the gain in efficiency through genetic selection has been remarkable. Read More...

The First Farmers: Where Did They Come From and Where Did They Go?

The First Farmers: Where Did They Come From and Where Did They Go?

Farming was a transformational technology that began the expansion of human populations and created settlements leading to the emergence of civilization. The origin of farming can be traced to the region known as the Fertile Crescent, which covered the area from modern Egypt around the eastern Mediterranean to Anatolia, the southern Caucasus mountains in the north, and the Euphrates and Tigris valleys in the east. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of early crop production from before 11,000 years ago and have traced the spread of agriculture in all directions from this region. One of the remaining questions is whether local hunter-gatherer populations across Europe and southern Asia learned about farming from afar and began their own farming culture, or whether Neolithic farmers migrated and brought agriculture and settlement with them. So, who were these ancient farmers, where did they come from, and where did their descendants emigrate? Read More...

Getting the Balance Right

Getting the Balance Right

Once described as an epidemic, obesity has now reached pandemic status with an estimated 600 million obese adults worldwide, and an additional 1.4 billion that are overweight. The cause of the pandemic is known—people consuming more energy (calories) than they expend—so it would seem that the solution would be to simply eat less. But a team of nutritional ecologists believes that cutting calories will not solve anything, because it ignores some basic tenets of human (and animal) biology. Using data from fruit flies, mice, birds, fish, monkeys, and humans, Raubenheimer, Simpson and their colleagues demonstrate a seemingly universal law of animal nutrition: a predominant appetite for protein. They propose that the human need to meet a fixed daily protein target leads to weight gain through the overconsumption of low protein foods that have come to dominate the Western diet. Rather than advocating for a high protein diet that eschews carbohydrates, they emphasize a balance of macronutrients for optimal health. Can dairy help strike this balance? Whole-food sources of protein that are easy to access, like dairy, can help balance out those beloved low-protein, high-carbohydrate processed foods and keep energy consumption in check. Read More...

Ancient Aurochs Genome Contains the DNA Blueprint for Modern Cattle

Ancient Aurochs Genome Contains the DNA Blueprint for Modern Cattle

A preserved specimen of aurochs bone was discovered deep beneath the Derbyshire Dales in the UK in the 1990s. Aurochs are an ancient cattle breed domesticated around 10,000 years ago somewhere around modern day Iran. In Europe, the last of these animals were still found on a Polish royal reserve as recently as the 17th century. Park et al., have now extracted enough DNA from the ancient bone specimen to sequence the aurochs genome. When they compared the aurochs sequence to the DNA of cattle breeds we know and use in domestic agriculture today, they found a surprisingly high level in common with British and Irish cattle. Read More...

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