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The genetic structure of flax illustrates environmental and anthropogenic selections that gave rise to its eco-geographical adaptation

Sertse, Demissew, You, Frank M., Ravichandran, Sridhar, Cloutier, Sylvie
Molecular phylogenetics and evolution 2019 v.137 pp. 22-32
breeding, crops, flax, genetic variation, germplasm, haplotypes, loci, morphs, oils, photoperiod, population structure, provenance
Flax, one of the eight founder crops of agriculture, has been cultivated for its oil and/or fiber for millennia. Understanding genetic divergence and geographic origins of germplasm in line with their cultivation history and ecological adaptation are essential for conservation and breeding. Here we performed a genome-wide assessment based on more than 51,000 single nucleotide polymorphic sites defining 383 flax accessions from a core collection representing 37 flax growing countries. Population structure analysis resulted in a total of 12 populations that were pooled into four major groups: Temperate, South Asian, Abyssinian and Mediterranean. The vast majority (n = 335) belonged to the Temperate group that comprised eight populations including one dominated by fiber flax. Genetic variation between fiber and oil morphotypes was less pronounced than variation within morphotypes. The genetic variation among groups and populations was attributed in part to eco-geographic and anthropogenic factors. Genetic signatures indicated loci under strong selection by environmental factors such as day length. A high concentration of private haplotypes were observed in the South Asian, Mediterranean and Abyssinian populations despite their low genotype representation, hinting at the long history of the crop in these regions. The addition of genotypes from these three regions would enrich the core collection by capturing a wider genetic breadth for breeding and conservation.