What is going on with plant domestication?

By Razib Khan | October 3, 2012 12:44 am

PNAS has a paper on barley domestication out right now. It is nicely open access, so read it yourself, and come right back! I have to admit that I did not like the paper too much. It seemed to derive far too many conclusions from a few rudimentary (for today at least) phylogenetic methods. In particular I’m very skeptical of the idea that there are two barely lineages here which diverged ~3 million years B.P. But this isn’t particularly strange when it comes to the phylogenetic origins of cultivars. There have been long debates about whether there was one origin for rice, or several. Setting aside my major issues with this paper I wonder if perhaps our expectations and prejudices derived from the fact that animals are to a great extent the “null” organisms are muddying our interpretation of results from plants. The number of loci here seem sufficient to dismiss the possibility of introgression, but I’m not sure that the rate of evolution across these markers is quite so clock-like.

In any case, to understand domestication, and I suspect human evolution, these results from plants are going to have to be cleared up and systematized. Illumination would be helpful, but until then I suppose we keep on hoping that the papers keep flowing.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolutionary Genetics
MORE ABOUT: Domestication
  • Francesc

    It appears that barley is barely domesticated…

  • Lxndr


    Sorry. It confused me.

  • Chad

    I am laughing and nodding in agreement to this statement:

    “I wonder if perhaps our expectations and prejudices derived from the fact that animals are to a great extent the “null” organisms are muddying our interpretation of results from plants.”

    I’ve always worked in plant genetics and I can’t even begin to describe how widespread this problem is. It ranges from the tools that are used (programs and databases with an overt animal bias, making them of little to no use in plants) to publishing in mainstream journals that sees plant research as of no value.

    Plants are amazingly tolerant of polyploidy and even hybridization. Take wheat….there are diploid varieties, tetraploid varieties, hexaploid varieties. The Brassicas, things like Cabbage and Broccoli, have hybridized in all kinds of combos.


    So I think plant phylogenies tend to be a lot messier than animals.

  • zach

    Oh dear. Razib – I love you, but it’s spelled “barley”.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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