Genome-wide reduction of genetic diversity in wheat breeding
Public concerns about crop uniformity introduced by modern plant breeding and genetic vulnerability to biotic and abiotic stresses have been one of the major forces driving long-term efforts in plant germplasm conservation for future food security. However, such concerns have gained little empirical support, as recent molecular diversity analyses of improved crop gene pools did not reveal much reduction from early to recent breeding efforts. We conducted a genome-wide examination of 75 Canadian hard red spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) cultivars released from 1845 to 2004 using 370 simple sequence repeat (or SSR) markers that were widely distributed over all 21 wheat chromosomes. A total of 2280 SSR alleles were detected. Allelic reduction occurred in every part of the wheat genome and a majority of the reduced alleles resided in only a few early cultivars. Significant allelic reduction started in the 1930s. Considering 2010 SSR alleles detected in the 20 earliest cultivars, 38% of them were retained, 18% were new, and 44% were lost in the 20 most recent cultivars. The net reduction of the total SSR variation in 20 recent cultivars was 17%. This clear-cut evidence not only supports the contention that modern plant breeding reduces the genetic diversity of Canadian wheat, but also underlies the need for conserving wheat germplasm and introducing genetic diversity into wheat breeding.