Background: Carrot is a vegetable cultivated worldwide for the consumption of its root. Historical data indicate that root colour has been differentially selected over time and according to geographical areas. Root pigmentation depends on the relative proportion of different carotenoids for the white, yellow, orange and red types but only internally for the purple one. The genetic control for root carotenoid content might be partially associated with carotenoid biosynthetic genes. Carotenoid isomerase (CRTISO) has emerged as a regulatory step in the carotenoid biosynthesis pathway and could be a good candidate to show how a metabolic pathway gene reflects a species genetic history.
Methodology/principal findings: In this study, the nucleotide polymorphism and the linkage disequilibrium among the complete CRTISO sequence, and the deviation from neutral expectation were analysed by considering population subdivision revealed with 17 microsatellite markers. A sample of 39 accessions, which represented different geographical origins and root colours, was used. Cultivated carrot was divided into two genetic groups: one from Middle East and Asia (Eastern group), and another one mainly from Europe (Western group). The Western and Eastern genetic groups were suggested to be differentially affected by selection: a signature of balancing selection was detected within the first group whereas the second one showed no selection. A focus on orange-rooted carrots revealed that cultivars cultivated in Asia were mainly assigned to the Western group but showed CRTISO haplotypes common to Eastern carrots.
Conclusion: The carotenoid pathway CRTISO gene data proved to be complementary to neutral markers in order to bring critical insight in the cultivated carrot history. We confirmed the occurrence of two migration events since domestication. Our results showed a European background in material from Japan and Central Asia. While confirming the introduction of European carrots in Japanese resources, the history of Central Asia material remains unclear.