Introduction

History and Science of Cultivated Plants narrates how humans transitioned from foragers to farmers and have arrived at present-day industrial agriculture-based civilization. It entails myths, historical accounts, and scientific concepts to describe how human efforts have shaped and produced easier to grow, larger, tastier, and more nutritious fruits, vegetables, and grains from wild plants. Using examples of various economically and socially important crops central to human civilization, the book describes the origin of crop plants, the evolution of agricultural practices, fundamental concepts of natural selection vs. domestication, experimental and methodical plant breeding, and plant biotechnology. A chapter on genetically engineered crops includes the fundamental concepts of recombinant DNA technology, the development of transgenic crops, and their societal impacts around the globe. The book discusses the challenges of feeding the world’s growing population in the wake of the changing climate, reduced acreage, and other socio-economic constraints, and the need for a sustainable agriculture system in the 21st century and beyond.

This text treats science as a type of human activity and examines the nature, value, and limitations of scientific methods and the interaction of science with society at numerous levels. The complex interactions between the available scientific knowledge and how it influences societal decisions have been described using a few historical examples. Often, the issues related to science can be adequately resolved using a more objective and systematic approach. However, the socio-political decisions have lasting consequences, and those need to be open-ended enough to leave room for inquiry, evaluation, and innovations. The purpose of this book is to empower its readers to adopt an open-minded approach to science and technology in general and develop a fundamental understanding of the agriculture and farming communities —who contribute to the variety, quality, and quantity of foods they consume.

I am grateful to my current and former colleagues, collaborators, and friends who have generously provided many images and figures used in this book. I would especially like to acknowledge Professor Susan McCouch, Dr. Ajay Garg (Cornell University), Professor Hiro Nonogaki and Professor Pankaj Jaiswal (Oregon State University), Dr. Shekhar Pathak and Pramod Singh for numerous discussions over the years that led to meaningful insights and helped to broaden the scope of this book. I would like to thank Stefanie Buck, Mark A. Lane, Ariel Meshorer, and Daniel Thompson (Oregon State University OER Unit) for their continued support in providing help with the review, editing, illustrations, and production of this book.

Sushma Naithani

June 6th, 2021
Corvallis, Oregon, USA

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