Open Access Research article

What's in a name; Genetic structure in Solanum section Petota studied using population-genetic tools

Mirjam MJ Jacobs123, Marinus JM Smulders1, Ronald G van den Berg23 and Ben Vosman13*

Author affiliations

1 Wageningen UR Plant Breeding, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, 6708PB Wageningen, The Netherlands

2 Biosystematics, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Wageningen, The Netherlands

3 Centre for BioSystems Genomics, P.O. Box 98, 6700 AB Wageningen, The Netherlands

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Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-42

Published: 10 February 2011



The taxonomy and systematic relationships among species of Solanum section Petota are complicated and the section seems overclassified. Many of the presumed (sub)species from South America are very similar and they are able to exchange genetic material. We applied a population genetic approach to evaluate support for subgroups within this material, using AFLP data. Our approach is based on the following assumptions: (i) accessions that may exchange genetic material can be analyzed as if they are part of one gene pool, and (ii) genetic differentiation among species is expected to be higher than within species.


A dataset of 566 South-American accessions (encompassing 89 species and subspecies) was analyzed in two steps. First, with the program STRUCTURE 2.2 in an 'unsupervised' procedure, individual accessions were assigned to inferred clusters based on genetic similarity. The results showed that the South American members of section Petota could be arranged in 16 clusters of various size and composition. Next, the accessions within the clusters were grouped by maximizing the partitioning of genetic diversity among subgroups (i.e., maximizing Fst values) for all available individuals of the accessions (2767 genotypes). This two-step approach produced an optimal partitioning into 44 groups.

Some of the species clustered as genetically distinct groups, either on their own, or combined with one or more other species. However, accessions of other species were distributed over more than one cluster, and did not form genetically distinct units.


We could not find any support for 43 species (almost half of our dataset). For 28 species some level of support could be found varying from good to weak. For 18 species no conclusions could be drawn as the number of accessions included in our dataset was too low. These molecular data should be combined with data from morphological surveys, with geographical distribution data, and with information from crossing experiments to identify natural units at the species level. However, the data do indicate which taxa or combinations of taxa are clearly supported by a distinct set of molecular marker data, leaving other taxa unsupported. Therefore, the approach taken provides a general method to evaluate the taxonomic system in any species complex for which molecular data are available.