Soybean (Glycine max) was domesticated in China from its wild progenitor G. soja. The geographic region of domestication is, however, not exactly known. Here we employed the directional evolution of SSR (microsatellite) repeats (which mutate preferentially into longer alleles) to analyze the domestication process and to infer the most ancestral soybean landraces. In this study, the average standardized SSR allele sizes across 42 SSR loci in 62 accessions of G. soja were determined, and compared with those in 1504 landraces of G. max, collected from all over China and representing the diversity in the gene bank. The standardized SSR allele size in the landraces (0.009) was significantly (P = 8.63 × 10-58) larger than those in G. soja (-0.406). Pairwise comparisons between inferred clusters and sub-clusters of Chinese landraces indicated that the average standardized SSR allele size also increased with the further differentiation of landraces populations. Spring-sowed types had the shortest size, followed by summer-sown types, while the sub-cluster of autumn-sown type had the largest length. The spring-sowed landraces located near the middle region along the Yellow River had the smallest allele sizes, indicating that this is the most ancestral population of cultivated soybean. We concluded that soybean was most likely domesticated in the middle region of the Yellow River in central China, initially as a spring-sown type.
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