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Genomic and phenotypic analysis of Vavilov’s historic landraces reveals the impact of environment and genomic islands of agronomic traits


The Vavilov Institute of Plant Genetic Resources (VIR), in St. Petersburg, Russia, houses a unique genebank, with historical collections of landraces. When they were collected, the geographical distribution and genetic diversity of most crops closely reflected their historical patterns of cultivation established over the preceding millennia. We employed a combination of genomics, computational biology and phenotyping to characterize VIR's 147 chickpea accessions from Turkey and Ethiopia, representing chickpea's center of origin and a major location of secondary diversity. Genotyping by sequencing identified 14,059 segregating polymorphisms and genome-wide association studies revealed 28 GWAS hits in potential candidate genes likely to affect traits of agricultural importance. The proportion of polymorphisms shared among accessions is a strong predictor of phenotypic resemblance, and of environmental similarity between historical sampling sites. We found that 20 out of 28 polymorphisms, associated with multiple traits, including days to maturity, plant phenology, and yield-related traits such as pod number, localized to chromosome 4. We hypothesize that selection and introgression via inadvertent hybridization between more and less advanced morphotypes might have resulted in agricultural improvement genes being aggregated to genomic 'agro islands', and in genotype-to-phenotype relationships resembling widespread pleiotropy.

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