Background: Hybrid speciation is classified into homoploid and polyploid based on ploidy level. Common wheat is an allohexaploid species that originated from a naturally occurring interploidy cross between tetraploid wheat and diploid wild wheat Aegilops tauschii Coss. Aegilops tauschii provides wide naturally occurring genetic variation. Sometimes its triploid hybrids with tetraploid wheat show the following four types of hybrid growth abnormalities: types II and III hybrid necrosis, hybrid chlorosis, and severe growth abortion. The growth abnormalities in the triploid hybrids could act as postzygotic hybridization barriers to prevent formation of hexaploid wheat.
Methodology/principal findings: Here, we report on the geographical and phylogenetic distribution of Ae. tauschii accessions inducing the hybrid growth abnormalities and showed that they are widely distributed across growth habitats in Ae. tauschii. Molecular and cytological characterization of the type III necrosis phenotype was performed. The hybrid abnormality causing accessions were widely distributed across growth habitats in Ae. tauschii. Transcriptome analysis showed that a number of defense-related genes such as pathogenesis-related genes were highly up-regulated in the type III necrosis lines. Transmission electron microscope observation revealed that cell death occurred accompanied by generation of reactive oxygen species in leaves undergoing type III necrosis. The reduction of photosynthetic activity occurred prior to the appearance of necrotic symptoms on the leaves exhibiting hybrid necrosis.
Conclusions/significance: Taking these results together strongly suggests that an autoimmune response might be triggered by intergenomic incompatibility between the tetraploid wheat and Ae. tauschii genomes in type III necrosis, and that genetically programmed cell death could be regarded as a hypersensitive response-like cell death similar to that observed in Arabidopsis intraspecific and Nicotiana interspecific hybrids. Only Ae. tauschii accessions without such inhibiting factors could be candidates for the D-genome donor for the present hexaploid wheat.