Apples first originated in China’s remote Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, a new documentary has claimed, quashing the popularly-held Chinese belief that they were introduced from the West.
The documentary by the state-run CCTV titled "Saving the Gene Pool", draws on a multitude of scientific evidence to show that all cultivated apple varieties are offshoots of Malus sieversii, a wild apple native to the Tianshan mountain range in Central Asia.
Many Chinese attribute the introduction of the apple to China by John Livingston Nevius (1829-93), a US Christian missionary.
Livingstone and his wife were said to have brought apple seedlings with them to Yantai in Shandong province, now a major apple growing region, state-run China Daily reported.
The documentary team also tested a wild apple tree in the Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture in Xinjiang.
The 12.9-meter tree is believed to be over 600-years-old, predating the supposed introduction of apples to China by a few hundred years.
The sequencing of the apple genome by Italian Riccardo Velasco further supports the relationship between wild apples and domesticated apples, Zhang Daoyuan, a researcher with the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said.
The Tianshan mountain range has one of the world’s largest wild fruit ecological systems.
Many wild fruit species flourished in the valleys and basins about 65 million years ago.
According to the latest research, the region has 84 varieties of wild apple, making it a rare and rich apple gene pool.
Guan Kaiyun, deputy head of the institute, said researchers are exploring the potential to domesticate wild varieties that are not only drought- and cold-resistant, but also taste good.
The documentary, broadcast by China Central Television.
It was jointly produced by the institute, CCTV and the CAS Bureau of Science Communication.