What are crop wild relatives?

Crop wild relatives are the wild ‘cousins’ of our cultivated crops. In the same way that the wolf is related to the dog, CWRs are related to our food plants.

Let’s look at an example. Oryza rufipogon is a wild rice species which grows in various countries in Asia and is considered a weed in some countries. The rice we eat today was originally domesticated from it, probably in China and India. When we speak of the domestication of a crop, we refer to the long process by which humans gradually change the characteristics of wild plants by selecting for certain traits, both intentionally and unintentionally.

Many crop wild relatives like Oryza rufipogon can be fairly easily crossed with the crop species to which they are related. Sometimes it’s not so easy, but plant breeders have been crossing CWR with crops to develop new varieties for decades.

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