Origin and parental genome characterization of the allotetraploid Stylosanthes scabra Vogel (Papilionoideae, Leguminosae), an important legume pasture crop

Ann Bot. 2018 Dec 31;122(7):1143-1159. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcy113.


Backgrounds and aims: The genus Stylosanthes includes nitrogen-fixing and drought-tolerant species of considerable economic importance for perennial pasture, green manure and land recovery. Stylosanthes scabra is adapted to variable soil conditions, being cultivated to improve pastures and soils worldwide. Previous studies have proposed S. scabra as an allotetraploid species (2n = 40) with a putative diploid A genome progenitor S. hamata or S. seabrana (2n = 20) and the B genome progenitor S. viscosa (2n = 20). We aimed to provide conclusive evidence for the origin of S. scabra.

Methods: We performed fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and genomic in situ hybridization (GISH) experiments and Illumina paired-end sequencing of S. scabra, S. hamata and S. viscosa genomic DNA, to assemble and compare complete ribosomal DNA (rDNA) units and chloroplast genomes. Plastome- and genome-wide single nucleotide variation detection was also performed.

Key results: GISH and phylogenetic analyses of plastid DNA and rDNA sequences support that S. scabra is an allotetraploid formed from 0.63 to 0.52 million years ago (Mya), from progenitors with a similar genome structure to the maternal donor S. hamata and the paternal donor S. viscosa. FISH revealed a non-additive number of 35S rDNA sites in S. scabra compared with its progenitors, indicating the loss of one locus from A genome origin. In S. scabra, most 5S rDNA units were similar to S. viscosa, while one 5S rDNA site of reduced size most probably came from an A genome species as revealed by GISH and in silico analysis.

Conclusions: Our approach combined whole-plastome and rDNA assembly with additional cytogenetic analysis to shed light successfully on the allotetraploid origin of S. scabra. We propose a Middle Pleistocene origin for S. scabra involving species with maternal A and paternal B genomes. Our data also suggest that variation found in rDNA units in S. scabra and its progenitors reveals differences that can be explained by homogenization, deletion and amplification processes that have occurred since its origin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Ribosomal / analysis
  • Fabaceae / genetics*
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Genome, Plant / genetics*
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Tetraploidy*


  • DNA, Ribosomal