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To meet the current challenges in human food production, improved understanding of the genetic diversity of crop species that maximises the selection efficacy in breeding programs is needed. The present study offers new insights into the diversity, genetic structure and demographic history of cultivated rye (Secale cereale L.). We genotyped 620 individuals from 14 global rye populations with a different end use (grain or forage) at 32 genome-wide simple sequence repeat markers. We reveal the relationships among these populations, their sizes and the timing of domestication events using population genetics and model-based inference with approximate Bayesian computation. Our main results demonstrate (1) a high within-population variation and genetic diversity, (2) an unexpected absence of reduction in diversity with an increasing improvement level and (3) patterns suggestive of multiple domestication events. We suggest that the main drivers of diversification of winter rye are the end use of rye in two early regions of cultivation: rye forage in the Mediterranean area and grain in northeast Europe. The lower diversity and stronger differentiation of eastern European populations were most likely due to more intensive cultivation and breeding of rye in this region, in contrast to the Mediterranean region where it was considered a secondary crop or even a weed. We discuss the relevance of our results for the management of gene bank resources and the pitfalls of inference methods applied to crop domestication due to violation of model assumptions and model complexity. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
PMID: 26607414 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]