Transoceanic drift and the domestication of African bottle gourds in the Americas.
Bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria) was one of the first domesticated plants, and the only one with a global distribution during pre-Columbian times. Although native to Africa, bottle gourd was in use by humans in east Asia, possibly as early as 11,000 y ago (BP) and in the Americas by 10,000 BP. Despite its utilitarian importance to diverse human populations, it remains unresolved how the bottle gourd came to be so widely distributed, and in particular how and when it arrived in the New World. A previous study using ancient DNA concluded that Paleoindians transported already domesticated gourds to the Americas from Asia when colonizing the New World [Erickson et al. (2005) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102(51):18315-18320]. However, this scenario requires the propagation of tropical-adapted bottle gourds across the Arctic. Here, we isolate 86,000 base pairs of plastid DNA from a geographically broad sample of archaeological and living bottle gourds. In contrast to the earlier results, we find that all pre-Columbian bottle gourds are most closely related to African gourds, not Asian gourds. Ocean-current drift modeling shows that wild African gourds could have simply floated across the Atlantic during the Late Pleistocene. Once they arrived in the New World, naturalized gourd populations likely became established in the Neotropics via dispersal by megafaunal mammals. These wild populations were domesticated in several distinct New World locales, most likely near established centers of food crop domestication.