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Evolution of the apomixis transmitting chromosome in Pennisetum

Yukio Akiyama1, Shailendra Goel1, Joann A Conner1, Wayne W Hanna2, Hitomi Yamada-Akiyama3 and Peggy Ozias-Akins1*

  • * Corresponding author: Peggy Ozias-Akins

  • † Equal contributors

Author affiliations

1 Department of Horticulture, The University of Georgia, 2360 Rainwater Rd., Tifton, GA 31793-5766, USA

2 Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, The University of Georgia, 2360 Rainwater Rd., Tifton, GA 31793-5766, USA

3 Graduate School of Agriculture, Iwate University, 3-18-8 Ueda, Morioka, Iwate 020-8550, Japan

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:289  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-289

Published: 5 October 2011



Apomixis is an intriguing trait in plants that results in maternal clones through seed reproduction. Apomixis is an elusive, but potentially revolutionary, trait for plant breeding and hybrid seed production. Recent studies arguing that apomicts are not evolutionary dead ends have generated further interest in the evolution of asexual flowering plants.


In the present study, we investigate karyotypic variation in a single chromosome responsible for transmitting apomixis, the Apospory-Specific Genomic Region carrier chromosome, in relation to species phylogeny in the genera Pennisetum and Cenchrus. A 1 kb region from the 3' end of the ndhF gene and a 900 bp region from trnL-F were sequenced from 12 apomictic and eight sexual species in the genus Pennisetum and allied genus Cenchrus. An 800 bp region from the Apospory-Specific Genomic Region also was sequenced from the 12 apomicts. Molecular cytological analysis was conducted in sixteen Pennisetum and two Cenchrus species. Our results indicate that the Apospory-Specific Genomic Region is shared by all apomictic species while it is absent from all sexual species or cytotypes. Contrary to our previous observations in Pennisetum squamulatum and Cenchrus ciliaris, retrotransposon sequences of the Opie-2-like family were not closely associated with the Apospory-Specific Genomic Region in all apomictic species, suggesting that they may have been accumulated after the Apospory-Specific Genomic Region originated.


Given that phylogenetic analysis merged Cenchrus and newly investigated Pennisetum species into a single clade containing a terminal cluster of Cenchrus apomicts, the presumed monophyletic origin of Cenchrus is supported. The Apospory-Specific Genomic Region likely preceded speciation in Cenchrus and its lateral transfer through hybridization and subsequent chromosome repatterning may have contributed to further speciation in the two genera.