Humans Saved Gourds and Pumpkins From Extinction

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While biting into a slice of pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, keep in mind that you might not be enjoying the tasty treat had it not been for your ancient ancestors.

According to Cari Romm over at The Atlantic, pumpkins, squashes, and gourds might have perished during the Ice Age had it not been for humans’ green thumbs. Citing a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Romm explains that large mammals like mastodons once ate gourds and spread the plants’ seeds when they pooped them out. However, these animals died in a mass extinction some 10,000 years ago.

Surviving smaller creatures wouldn’t have taken over the job because the wild gourds were once very bitter, and tinier animals are genetically stacked to have bitter-taste receptors; scientists confirmed that by analyzing the genomes of 46 mammals of various sizes. These creatures would have left the tart autumnal bounty alone.

Researchers also studied the genomes of 91 different samples of the gourd’s genus, Cucurbita—a mix of modern wild and domestic varieties, as well as ancient varieties—and found that they were domesticated into their sweeter, modern-day versions around 10,000 years ago. Because this was around the time the last of the large mammals died off and humans began to practice agriculture, we're most likely responsible for helping the gourd make it all the way from the Ice Age to the dinner table this holiday season.

[h/t The Atlantic]