Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a perennial grass undergoing development as a biofuel feedstock. One of the most important factors hindering breeding efforts in this species is the need for accurate measurement of biomass yield on a per-hectare basis. Genomic selection on simple-to-measure traits that approximate biomass yield has the potential to significantly speed up the breeding cycle. Recent advances in switchgrass genomic and phenotypic resources are now making it possible to evaluate the potential of genomic selection of such traits. We leveraged these resources to study the ability of three widely-used genomic selection models to predict phenotypic values of morphological and biomass quality traits in an association panel consisting of predominantly northern adapted upland germplasm. High prediction accuracies were obtained for most of the traits, with standability having the highest ten-fold cross validation prediction accuracy (0.52). Moreover, the morphological traits generally had higher prediction accuracies than the biomass quality traits. Nevertheless, our results suggest that the quality of current genomic and phenotypic resources available for switchgrass is sufficiently high for genomic selection to significantly impact breeding efforts for biomass yield.
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a perennial grass that has been designated as an herbaceous model biofuel crop for the United States of America. To facilitate accelerated breeding programs of switchgrass, we developed both an association panel and linkage populations for genome-wide association study (GWAS) and genomic selection (GS). All of the 840 individuals were then genotyped using genotyping by sequencing (GBS), generating 350 GB of sequence in total. As a highly heterozygous polyploid (tetraploid and octoploid) species lacking a reference genome, switchgrass is highly intractable with earlier methodologies of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) discovery. To access the genetic diversity of species like switchgrass, we developed a SNP discovery pipeline based on a network approach called the Universal Network-Enabled Analysis Kit (UNEAK). Complexities that hinder single nucleotide polymorphism discovery, such as repeats, paralogs, and sequencing errors, are easily resolved with UNEAK. Here, 1.2 million putative SNPs were discovered in a diverse collection of primarily upland, northern-adapted switchgrass populations. Further analysis of this data set revealed the fundamentally diploid nature of tetraploid switchgrass. Taking advantage of the high conservation of genome structure between switchgrass and foxtail millet (Setaria italica (L.) P. Beauv.), two parent-specific, synteny-based, ultra high-density linkage maps containing a total of 88,217 SNPs were constructed. Also, our results showed clear patterns of isolation-by-distance and isolation-by-ploidy in natural populations of switchgrass. Phylogenetic analysis supported a general south-to-north migration path of switchgrass. In addition, this analysis suggested that upland tetraploid arose from upland octoploid. All together, this study provides unparalleled insights into the diversity, genomic complexity, population structure, phylogeny, phylogeography, ploidy, and evolutionary dynamics of switchgrass.
The goal of many plant scientists research is to explain natural phenotypic variation in terms of simple changes in DNA sequence. Traditionally, linkage mapping has been the most commonly employed method to reach this goal: experimental crosses are made to generate a family with known relatedness, and attempts are made to identify cosegregation of genetic markers and phenotypes within this family. In vertebrate systems, association mapping (also known as linkage disequilibrium mapping) is increasingly being adopted as the mapping method of choice. Association mapping involves searching for genotype-phenotype correlations in unrelated individuals and often is more rapid and cost-effective than traditional linkage mapping. We emphasize here that linkage and association mapping are complementary approaches and are more similar than is often assumed. Unlike in vertebrates, where controlled crosses can be expensive or impossible (e.g., in humans), the plant scientific community can exploit the advantages of both controlled crosses and association mapping to increase statistical power and mapping resolution. While the time and money required for the collection of genotype data were critical considerations in the past, the increasing availability of inexpensive DNA sequencing and genotyping methods should prompt researchers to shift their attention to experimental design. This review provides thoughts on finding the optimal experimental mix of association mapping using unrelated individuals and controlled crosses to identify the genes underlying phenotypic variation.
Although yield trials for switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), a potentially high value biofuel feedstock crop, are currently underway throughout North America, the genetic tools for crop improvement in this species are still in the early stages of development. Identification of high-density molecular markers, such as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), that are amenable to high-throughput genotyping approaches, is the first step in a quantitative genetics study of this model biofuel crop species. We generated and sequenced expressed sequence tag (EST) libraries from thirteen diverse switchgrass cultivars representing both upland and lowland ecotypes, as well as tetraploid and octoploid genomes. We followed this with reduced genomic library preparation and massively parallel sequencing of the same samples using the Illumina Genome Analyzer technology platform. EST libraries were used to generate unigene clusters and establish a gene-space reference sequence, thus providing a framework for assembly of the short sequence reads. SNPs were identified utilizing these scaffolds. We used a custom software program for alignment and SNP detection and identified over 149,000 SNPs across the 13 short-read sequencing libraries (SRSLs). Approximately 25,000 additional SNPs were identified from the entire EST collection available for the species. This sequencing effort generated data that are suitable for marker development and for estimation of population genetic parameters, such as nucleotide diversity and linkage disequilibrium. Based on these data, we assessed the feasibility of genome wide association mapping and genomic selection applications in switchgrass. Overall, the SNP markers discovered in this study will help facilitate quantitative genetics experiments and greatly enhance breeding efforts that target improvement of key biofuel traits and development of new switchgrass cultivars.
Whereas breeders have exploited diversity in maize for yield improvements, there has been limited progress in using beneficial alleles in undomesticated varieties. Characterizing standing variation in this complex genome has been challenging, with only a small fraction of it described to date. Using a population genetics scoring model, we identified 55 million SNPs in 103 lines across pre-domestication and domesticated Zea mays varieties, including a representative from the sister genus Tripsacum. We find that structural variations are pervasive in the Z. mays genome and are enriched at loci associated with important traits. By investigating the drivers of genome size variation, we find that the larger Tripsacum genome can be explained by transposable element abundance rather than an allopolyploid origin. In contrast, intraspecies genome size variation seems to be controlled by chromosomal knob content. There is tremendous overlap in key gene content in maize and Tripsacum, suggesting that adaptations from Tripsacum (for example, perennialism and frost and drought tolerance) can likely be integrated into maize.
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