The Molecular Genetics of Crop Domestication

We summarize what has been learned to date about genes that are known to have contributed to phenotypic differences in traits under selection during domestication

John F. Doebley; Brandon S. Gaut; Bruce D. Smith

2006

Scholarcy highlights

  • Most members of our modern industrial societies have never seen and would not recognize the unpromising wild plants that are the progenitors of our remarkably productive crops
  • By 4000 years ago, ancient peoples had completed the domestication of all major crop species upon which human survival is dependent, including rice, wheat, and maize
  • The list of genes to date tentatively suggests that diverse plant developmental pathways were the targets of Neolithic “genetic tinkering,” and we are closer to understanding how plant development was redirected to meet the needs of a hungry world
  • 10,000 years ago, people who could not read, write, or do calculus prospered on diets composed of wild plants and animals
  • We end by summarizing what has been learned about how domestication modified plant development to produce today's crops and by giving some examples of how this knowledge is being exploited to drive crop improvements in ways not possible using traditional plant breeding methods
  • Ancient breeders accepted some trade-offs in this process, such as the 50% reduction in the protein content of domesticated cereal grains as compared to wild cereals in exchange for an increase in yield
  • We have reviewed two approaches to understanding the genetic changes that underlie crop domestication and improvement: a classical genetic approach of starting with phenotype and working back to the gene and a population genetic approach of starting with genes and asking whether these genes were targets of selection
  • Companies are practicing “allele mining” or screening unimproved varieties and wild relatives to recover superior alleles that failed to pass through the domestication and improvement bottlenecks (

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