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Gene expression in developing fibres of Upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) was massively altered by domestication

Ryan A Rapp1, Candace H Haigler2, Lex Flagel14, Ran H Hovav3, Joshua A Udall5 and Jonathan F Wendel1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology, 251 Bessey Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA

2 Department of Crop Science and Department of Plant Biology, 4405 Williams Hall, Box 7620, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695, USA

3 217 Plant Sciences Institution, Volcani Center, ARO, Bet Dagan, Israel

4 Department of Biology, Box 90338, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27008, USA

5 295 WIDB, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah 84602, USA

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BMC Biology 2010, 8:139  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-139

Published: 15 November 2010



Understanding the evolutionary genetics of modern crop phenotypes has a dual relevance to evolutionary biology and crop improvement. Modern upland cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) was developed following thousands of years of artificial selection from a wild form, G. hirsutum var. yucatanense, which bears a shorter, sparser, layer of single-celled, ovular trichomes ('fibre'). In order to gain an insight into the nature of the developmental genetic transformations that accompanied domestication and crop improvement, we studied the transcriptomes of cotton fibres from wild and domesticated accessions over a developmental time course.


Fibre cells were harvested between 2 and 25 days post-anthesis and encompassed the primary and secondary wall synthesis stages. Using amplified messenger RNA and a custom microarray platform designed to interrogate expression for 40,430 genes, we determined global patterns of expression during fibre development. The fibre transcriptome of domesticated cotton is far more dynamic than that of wild cotton, with over twice as many genes being differentially expressed during development (12,626 versus 5273). Remarkably, a total of 9465 genes were diagnosed as differentially expressed between wild and domesticated fibres when summed across five key developmental time points. Human selection during the initial domestication and subsequent crop improvement has resulted in a biased upregulation of components of the transcriptional network that are important for agronomically advanced fibre, especially in the early stages of development. About 15% of the differentially expressed genes in wild versus domesticated cotton fibre have no homology to the genes in databases.


We show that artificial selection during crop domestication can radically alter the transcriptional developmental network of even a single-celled structure, affecting nearly a quarter of the genes in the genome. Gene expression during fibre development within accessions and expression alteration arising from evolutionary change appears to be 'modular' - complex genic networks have been simultaneously and similarly transformed, in a coordinated fashion, as a consequence of human-mediated selection. These results highlight the complex alteration of the global gene expression machinery that resulted from human selection for a longer, stronger and finer fibre, as well as other aspects of fibre physiology that were not consciously selected. We illustrate how the data can be mined for genes that were unwittingly targeted by aboriginal and/or modern domesticators during crop improvement and/or which potentially control the improved qualities of domesticated cotton fibre.

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