London, May 8 (ANI): Scientists have warned that the wild ancestors of common domestic fruit trees are in danger of becoming extinct.
According to a report by BBC News, the warning has come as researchers have published a "red list" of threatened species that grow in the forests of Central Asia.
These disease-resistant and climate-tolerant fruit trees could play a role in our future food security.
But in the last 50 years, about 90 percent of the forests have been destroyed, according to conservation charity, Fauna and Flora International.
The Red List of Central Asia identifies 44 tree species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as under threat from extinction.
It cites over-exploitation and human development as among the main threats to the region's forests, which are home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut species including apple, plum, cherry, apricot and walnut.
Antonia Eastwood, the lead author of the research, described the region as a "unique global hotspot of diversity".
"A lot of these species are only found in this area," she told BBC News. "It's very mountainous and dry, so many of these species have a great deal of tolerance to cold and drought," she said.
"A lot of our domestic fruit supply comes from a very narrow genetic base. Given the threats posed to food supplies by disease and the changing climate, we may need to go back to these species and include them in breeding programmes," she added.
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are thought to be the ancestral homes of familiar favourites such as Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.
The US Department of Agriculture has already sponsored expeditions to Kazakhstan, during which scientists have collected samples with the aim of expanding the genetic diversity of farm-grown apples.According to Dr Eastwood, this type of genetic foraging, explained, allows domestic lines to be crossed with wild strains, producing varieties more resistant to diseases such as apple scab, a fungus that can devastate crops.
"But, these countries lack the resources to conserve their valuable trees," she said. (ANI)