Much like dogs have wolves, our familiar crops have undomesticated relatives growing in the wild, which often have useful traits not found in their cousins grown on farms. As global food systems face increasing threats from climate change, scientists and breeders are figuring out how to use these wild relatives to produce new crop varieties that are more productive and resilient.
Crop wild relatives often look very different from their cultivated counterparts—and are normally not even edible—but they offer a potentially valuable source of the genes needed to breed new, hardier seeds.
Humans have been taming the wild for millennia, domesticating plants to serve as food, or forage. But plant domestication has narrowed the genetic diversity of our crops in comparison with their wild ancestors, with scientific plant breeding often continuing this process in recent decades. The less genetic diversity crops have, the lower their potential to adapt to challenges, such as shifts in seasons, more intense rains, droughts, pests, and other effects of the changing climate.