Citrus fruits originated in China, new study suggests

Citrus fruits originated in China, new study suggests
via Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash
Michelle De Pacina
October 6, 2023
A new genetic analysis indicates that citrus fruits originated from China. 
Citrus genus origin: While various citrus fruits are widely available today, it has been unclear where their oldest ancestors evolved. Previous studies pointed to different regions like northeastern Australia, southern China or the southeastern Himalayan foothills. 
However, researchers have found that the first species in the Citrus genus likely originated around 8 million years ago in what is now south central China, according to the analysis published in Nature Genetics on Monday. The ancestors of the Citrus lineage may have arrived in Asia around 25 million years ago when the Indian tectonic plate collided with the Asian plate. 
Tracing citrus trees: Horticulturist Qiang Xu from Huazhong Agricultural University and his colleagues reportedly built a family tree using genetic data from 314 citrus and citrus-related plants, including 15 citrus species.
The team also conducted fieldwork to locate wild citrus trees. Their findings indicate that the oldest citrus fruits, including the trifoliate orange (C. trifoliata), are primarily found in south central China, supporting the idea that the region is the birthplace of the Citrus genus.
Other regions: Researchers also said that some species have their roots in regions mentioned in earlier studies, with pomelo and citron fruits originating in the Himalayan foothills and certain wild limes evolving in Australia. 
PH4 gene: Additionally, the study also identified a gene, PH4, linked to the tartness of citrus fruits, as it regulates the amount of citric acid in the fruit. According to researchers, understanding citrus evolution can help researchers develop more resilient plant varieties that still produce delicious fruit. 
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