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See Inside August 2009

Celiac Disease Insights: Clues to Solving Autoimmunity

Study of a potentially fatal food-triggered disease has uncovered a process that may contribute to many autoimmune disorders



JupiterImages (photograph); Jen Christiansen (photoillustration)

My vote for the most important scientific revolution of all time would trace back 10,000 years ago to the Middle East, when people first noticed that new plants arise from seeds falling to the ground from other plants—a realization that led to the birth of agriculture. Before that observation, the human race had based its diet on fruits, nuts, tubers and occasional meats. People had to move to where their food happened to be, putting them at the mercy of events and making long-term settlements impossible.

Once humans uncovered the secret of seeds, they quickly learned to domesticate crops, ultimately crossbreeding different grass plants to create such staple grains as wheat, rye and barley, which were nutritious, versatile, storable, and valuable for trade. For the first time, people were able to abandon the nomadic life and build cities. It is no coincidence that the first agricultural areas also became "cradles of civilization."

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