Background: Switchgrass, a C4 species and a warm-season grass native to the prairies of North America, has been targeted for development into an herbaceous biomass fuel crop. Genetic improvement of switchgrass feedstock traits through marker-assisted breeding and biotechnology approaches calls for genomic tools development. Establishment of integrated physical and genetic maps for switchgrass will accelerate mapping of value added traits useful to breeding programs and to isolate important target genes using map based cloning. The reported polyploidy series in switchgrass ranges from diploid (2X = 18) to duodecaploid (12X = 108). Like in other large, repeat-rich plant genomes, this genomic complexity will hinder whole genome sequencing efforts. An extensive physical map providing enough information to resolve the homoeologous genomes would provide the necessary framework for accurate assembly of the switchgrass genome.
Results: A switchgrass BAC library constructed by partial digestion of nuclear DNA with EcoRI contains 147,456 clones covering the effective genome approximately 10 times based on a genome size of 3.2 Gigabases (~1.6 Gb effective). Restriction digestion and PFGE analysis of 234 randomly chosen BACs indicated that 95% of the clones contained inserts, ranging from 60 to 180 kb with an average of 120 kb. Comparative sequence analysis of two homoeologous genomic regions harboring orthologs of the rice OsBRI1 locus, a low-copy gene encoding a putative protein kinase and associated with biomass, revealed that orthologous clones from homoeologous chromosomes can be unambiguously distinguished from each other and correctly assembled to respective fingerprint contigs. Thus, the data obtained not only provide genomic resources for further analysis of switchgrass genome, but also improve efforts for an accurate genome sequencing strategy.
Conclusions: The construction of the first switchgrass BAC library and comparative analysis of homoeologous harboring OsBRI1 orthologs present a glimpse into the switchgrass genome structure and complexity. Data obtained demonstrate the feasibility of using HICF fingerprinting to resolve the homoeologous chromosomes of the two distinct genomes in switchgrass, providing a robust and accurate BAC-based physical platform for this species. The genomic resources and sequence data generated will lay the foundation for deciphering the switchgrass genome and lead the way for an accurate genome sequencing strategy.