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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Building a model: developing genomic resources for common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) with low coverage genome sequencing

Shannon CK Straub1*, Mark Fishbein2, Tatyana Livshultz3, Zachary Foster1, Matthew Parks1, Kevin Weitemier1, Richard C Cronn4 and Aaron Liston1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University, 2082 Cordley Hall, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

2 Department of Botany, Oklahoma State University, 104 Life Sciences East, Stillwater, Oklahoma 74078, USA

3 The Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103, USA

4 Pacific Northwest Research Station, USDA Forest Service, 3200 SW Jefferson Way, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, USA

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:211  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-211

Published: 4 May 2011



Milkweeds (Asclepias L.) have been extensively investigated in diverse areas of evolutionary biology and ecology; however, there are few genetic resources available to facilitate and compliment these studies. This study explored how low coverage genome sequencing of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.) could be useful in characterizing the genome of a plant without prior genomic information and for development of genomic resources as a step toward further developing A. syriaca as a model in ecology and evolution.


A 0.5× genome of A. syriaca was produced using Illumina sequencing. A virtually complete chloroplast genome of 158,598 bp was assembled, revealing few repeats and loss of three genes: accD, clpP, and ycf1. A nearly complete rDNA cistron (18S-5.8S-26S; 7,541 bp) and 5S rDNA (120 bp) sequence were obtained. Assessment of polymorphism revealed that the rDNA cistron and 5S rDNA had 0.3% and 26.7% polymorphic sites, respectively. A partial mitochondrial genome sequence (130,764 bp), with identical gene content to tobacco, was also assembled. An initial characterization of repeat content indicated that Ty1/copia-like retroelements are the most common repeat type in the milkweed genome. At least one A. syriaca microread hit 88% of Catharanthus roseus (Apocynaceae) unigenes (median coverage of 0.29×) and 66% of single copy orthologs (COSII) in asterids (median coverage of 0.14×). From this partial characterization of the A. syriaca genome, markers for population genetics (microsatellites) and phylogenetics (low-copy nuclear genes) studies were developed.


The results highlight the promise of next generation sequencing for development of genomic resources for any organism. Low coverage genome sequencing allows characterization of the high copy fraction of the genome and exploration of the low copy fraction of the genome, which facilitate the development of molecular tools for further study of a target species and its relatives. This study represents a first step in the development of a community resource for further study of plant-insect co-evolution, anti-herbivore defense, floral developmental genetics, reproductive biology, chemical evolution, population genetics, and comparative genomics using milkweeds, and A. syriaca in particular, as ecological and evolutionary models.