Recent studies have shown that allopolyploidy accelerates genome evolution in wheat in two ways: (1) allopolyploidization triggers rapid genome changes (revolutionary changes) through the instantaneous generation of a variety of cardinal genetic and epigenetic alterations, and (2) the allopolyploid condition facilitates sporadic genomic changes during the life of the species (evolutionary changes) that are not attainable at the diploid level. The revolutionary changes comprise (1) non-random elimination of coding and non-coding DNA sequences, (2) epigenetic changes such as DNA methylation of coding and non-coding DNA leading, among others, to gene silencing, (3) activation of genes and retroelements which in turn alters the expression of adjacent genes. These highly reproducible changes occur in the F1 hybrids or in the first generation(s) of the nascent allopolyploids and were similar to those that occurred twice in nature: first in the formation of allotetraploid wheat (approximately 0.5 million years ago) and second in the formation of hexaploid wheat (approximately 10,000 years ago). Elimination of non-coding sequences from one of the two homoeologous pairs in tetraploids and from two homoeologous pairs in hexaploids, augments the differentiation of homoeologous chromosomes at the polyploid level, thus providing the physical basis for the diploid-like meiotic behavior of allopolyploid wheat. Regulation of gene expression may lead to improved inter-genomic interactions. Gene inactivation brings about rapid diploidization while activation of genes through demethylation or through transcriptional activation of retroelements altering the expression of adjacent genes, leads to novel expression patterns. The evolutionary changes comprise (1) horizontal inter-genomic transfer of chromosome segments between the constituent genomes, (2) production of recombinant genomes through hybridization and introgression between different allopolyploid species or, more seldom, between allopolyploids and diploids, and (3) mutations. These phenomena, emphasizing the plasticity of the genome with regards to both structure and function, might improve the adaptability of the newly formed allopolyploids and facilitate their rapid and successful establishment in nature.
Copyright 2005 S. Karger AG, Basel.