10 Scientific Breakthroughs We Literally Couldn't Live Without

Agricultural Crops
That crop of wheat is the result of a series of scientific and technical breakthroughs. iStock/Thinkstock

If we didn't have farms to produce food for us, we'd all have to spend much of our time gathering wild plants and stalking animals to survive, the way primitive hunter-gatherers did thousands of years ago. Hunting and gathering isn't necessarily a bad way to go. For example, its inherent flexibility enables humans to use the available resources in a range of habitats efficiently, and it doesn't deplete the ecosystem the way modern civilization does [source: Washington State University]. But it would require us to continually be on the move and limit ourselves to relatively small groups. Contemporary civilization -- from standing militaries to factories to shopping malls -- would be impractical. That's why the development of agriculture is so important to our survival.

Agriculture really is not one, but a series, of scientific and technical breakthroughs -- such as the development of irrigation technologies, and the invention of crop rotation and fertilizers -- that occurred over thousands of years. But it all started when humans figured out how to gather seeds from wild plants, plant and tend them, and harvest them. According to DNA analysis of modern foodstuffs, development of the "founder crops" -- wheat, barley, chickpeas, lentils, flax and others -- dates back about 9,000 to 10,000 years in southwest Asia [source: Harris].