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Along the Silk Road

A group of genetic researchers are currently travelling along parts of the Silk Road, visiting Terra Madre food communities to investigate the genetics of taste. The researchers are following the historical journey of Venetian explorer Marco Polo, focusing on a number of topics including the genes that determine sensorial perception and taste, how these influence food preferences, the consequences of climate change on native populations, as well as documenting local food traditions. “We hope to gain a better understanding of genetics of taste and food preferences and their relationships with traditions and health of communities,” lead researcher Paolo Gasparini explained.

First presented as an idea at the 2008 Terra Madre event, the project has been organized in collaboration with local Slow Food convivia and members of the Terra Madre network. The project took its inspiration from Marco Polo’s journey along the Silk Road – a network of trade routes that connected Europe to Asia - in the 13th century, from which he recounted stories to Europeans about the customs and traditions of distant populations. For many centuries the Silk Road was the main site for the trade of goods, but also exchange of genes between western and eastern countries, and the areas along the path still maintain different ethnic groups and small communities with their cultural traditions.

The project also encompasses an educational component where community members are able to participate in workshops with Journey to the Origins of Taste, Slow Food’s sensory education kit developed in 2008 in collaboration with Paolo Gasparini, which explores the relationship between the enjoyment of food and use of the five senses.

A cameraman, photographer and two journalists are working closely with researchers during the trip to document their findings. Material will then be used for publication on the project’s website, television programs, multimedia educational kits, books, scientific publications and photo displays. The media documentation will provide an opportunity for the communities to promote their products and traditions and findings from the project will also be presented at the Terra Madre world meeting of food communities in Turin, Italy in October this year.

The group will travel from July to September visiting more than 20 Terra Madre food communities in six countries starting from Georgia and continuing through Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan Tajikistan and finally Kazakhstan. The trip also coincides with three regional Terra Madre meetings in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

For more information:

Simone Gie

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