Enhancing Crop Domestication Through Genomic Selection, a Case Study of Intermediate Wheatgrass

Jared Crain, Prabin Bajgain, James Anderson, Xiaofei Zhang, Lee DeHaan, Jesse Poland

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29 Scopus citations


Perennial grains could simultaneously provide food for humans and a host of ecosystem services, including reduced erosion, minimized nitrate leaching, and increased carbon capture. Yet most of the world’s food and feed is supplied by annual grains. Efforts to domesticate intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrumn intermedium, IWG) as a perennial grain crop have been ongoing since the 1980’s. Currently, there are several breeding programs within North America and Europe working toward developing IWG into a viable crop. As new breeding efforts are established to provide a widely adapted crop, questions of how genomic and phenotypic data can be used among sites and breeding programs have emerged. Utilizing five cycles of breeding data that span 8 years and two breeding programs, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, and The Land Institute, Salina, KS, we developed genomic selection (GS) models to predict IWG traits. Seven traits were evaluated with free-threshing seed, seed mass, and non-shattering being considered domestication traits while agronomic traits included spike yield, spikelets per inflorescence, plant height, and spike length. We used 6,199 genets – unique, heterozygous, individual plants – that had been profiled with genotyping-by-sequencing, resulting in 23,495 SNP markers to develop GS models. Within cycles, the predictive ability of GS was high, ranging from 0.11 to 0.97. Across-cycle predictions were generally much lower, ranging from −0.22 to 0.76. The prediction ability for domestication traits was higher than agronomic traits, with non-shattering and free threshing prediction abilities ranging from 0.27 to 0.75 whereas spike yield had prediction abilities ranging from −0.22 to 0.26. These results suggest that progress to reduce shattering and increase the percent free-threshing grain can be made irrespective of the location and breeding program. While site-specific programs may be required for agronomic traits, synergies can be achieved in rapidly improving key domestication traits for IWG. As other species are targeted for domestication, these results will aid in rapidly domesticating new crops.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number319
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
StatePublished - Mar 24 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded in part by the Perennial Agriculture Project, in conjunction with the Malone Family Land Preservation Foundation and The Land Institute.

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the excellent field and laboratory assistance of Shuangye Wu, Marty Christians, Brett Heim, and Professor Donald Wyse. The Thinopyrum intermedium Genome Sequencing Consortium provided pre-publication access to the IWG genome sequence. Computational work was completed on the Beocat Research Cluster at Kansas State University, which is funded in part by NSF grants CNS-1006860, EPS-1006860, and EPS-0919443.

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Crain, Bajgain, Anderson, Zhang, DeHaan and Poland.


  • domestication
  • genomic selection
  • intermediate wheatgrass
  • multi-environment
  • perennial crops
  • shared data resources


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