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Pretty much all apples can be traced back to two trees in Kazakhstan, and they’re our only hope

There are currently 7,500 varieties of apples in the world today – incredibly though, basically every single one of these can be traced back to a Mother and Father tree in a mysterious Kazakhstan forest.

Almaty is a city in Southern Kazakhstan, nestled in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountains.

Its name literally translates to ‘Father of Apples’, but now we know that nomenclature is truer than we ever suspected.

After sequencing the entire genome, scientists have traced 90% of the billions of apples that have ever been, back to the Malus sieversii – the original wild apple.

This species was born deep in the heart of the Tien Shen forests – where dense covers of apple trees dominated the hilly, remote mountain ranges.

Aerial view of the Tien Shan forests (Source: Dave's Garden)

Aerial view of the Tien Shan forests (Source: Dave’s Garden)

This area, even to this day, has a staggering diversity of apple varieties types.

Here, no two trees produce the same flavoured apple. They can be sweet, bitter, sour, juicy, dry with notes of rose, coconut and even popcorn.

The colours and size, likewise, are as varied as the tastes: some red, some white, some red-and-white, some huge, some tiny.

You get the picture.

Damn, apples - you crazy! (Source: Dave's Garden)

Damn, apples – you crazy! (Source: Dave’s Garden)

The reason most apples have that classic, sweet ‘apple’ flavour is funnily enough, because of bears.

In these Kazakh forests, bears, being the picky buggers that they are, would only pick and eat the sweetest apples.

Then they’d go and wander around poop everywhere and the seeds of these sweet, delicious apples were spread around.

Then humans cottoned on and were all “hey, sick apples, bears – we’re gonna eat and grow these to stuff in our mouths as well.”

Then we started only growing these apples which is why out of the thousands of apple varieties that originated from these forests, only 15 of them end up in our grocery stores.

So now, thanks to a group of scientists’ gene sequencing magic, we know that 90% of all apples can be traced back to a Mama and Papa tree thousands of years ago – that was most likely eaten by a bear and then pooped out all over the place.

Very cool.

The Apple Crisis

Except, it’s also kind of really bad.

For some time now, there’s been somewhat of a worldwide apple crisis.

Because the gene pool is so shallow (on account of most apples descending from two trees), all of that interbreeding has meant our apples are disease-prone and vulnerable to blights and pests.

So now, scientists and breeders are headed back to the Garden of Eden where it all began – the Tien Shen forests in Kazakhstan.

Like Smith’s Chips, these apples are the original, and the best: highly disease resistant, sweet, and hard.

American researchers have already begun to take 20,000 of their seedlings for study in an attempt to reinvigorate the gene pool with the good stuff.

With Kazakhstan opening up its borders to commerce and tourism, these forests are increasingly under threat and if deforestation rates stay unchanged, they won’t exist in as little as ten years time. Shocking.

And then how will we keep the doctor away?

About the author

Technically, Riordan writes culture, politics and sport, but 80% of his words are direct quotes stolen from The Simpsons. He promises to tweet more at @riordanl and speaks words for The Zero Thumbs Down Podcast.

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