Reticulated origin of domesticated emmer wheat supports a dynamic model for the emergence of agriculture in the fertile crescent.

Civáň, P., Ivaničová, Z., Brown, T.A.
PLoS ONE 8 (11): e81955, 2013

Abstract: We used supernetworks with datasets of nuclear gene sequences and novel markers detecting retrotransposon insertions in ribosomal DNA loci to reassess the evolutionary relationships among tetraploid wheats. We show that domesticated emmer has a reticulated genetic ancestry, sharing phylogenetic signals with wild populations from all parts of the wild range. The extent of the genetic reticulation cannot be explained by post-domestication gene flow between cultivated emmer and wild plants, and the phylogenetic relationships among tetraploid wheats are incompatible with simple linear descent of the domesticates from a single wild population. A more parsimonious explanation of the data is that domesticated emmer originates from a hybridized population of different wild lineages. The observed diversity and reticulation patterns indicate that wild emmer evolved in the southern Levant, and that the wild emmer populations in south-eastern Turkey and the Zagros Mountains are relatively recent reticulate descendants of a subset of the Levantine wild populations. Based on our results we propose a new model for the emergence of domesticated emmer. During a pre-domestication period, diverse wild populations were collected from a large area west of the Euphrates and cultivated in mixed stands. Within these cultivated stands, hybridization gave rise to lineages displaying reticulated genealogical relationships with their ancestral populations. Gradual movement of early farmers out of the Levant introduced the pre-domesticated reticulated lineages to the northern and eastern parts of the Fertile Crescent, giving rise to the local wild populations but also facilitating fixation of domestication traits. Our model is consistent with the protracted and dispersed transition to agriculture indicated by the archaeobotanical evidence, and also with previous genetic data affiliating domesticated emmer with the wild populations in southeast Turkey. Unlike other protracted models, we assume that humans played an intuitive role throughout the process.
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IEB authors: Zuzana Ivaničová