Deleterious and Adaptive Mutations in Plant Germplasm Conserved Ex Situ

Mol Biol Evol. 2023 Dec 1;40(12):msad238. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msad238.


Conserving more than 7 million plant germplasm accessions in 1,750 genebanks worldwide raises the hope of securing the food supply for humanity for future generations. However, there is a genetic cost for such long-term germplasm conservation, which has been largely unaccounted for before. We investigated the extent and variation of deleterious and adaptive mutations in 490 individual plants representing barley, wheat, oat, soybean, maize, rapa, and sunflower collections in a seed genebank using RNA-Seq technology. These collections were found to have a range of deleterious mutations detected from 125 (maize) to 83,695 (oat) with a mean of 13,537 and of the averaged sample-wise mutation burden per deleterious locus from 0.069 to 0.357 with a mean of 0.200. Soybean and sunflower collections showed that accessions acquired earlier had increased mutation burdens. The germplasm with more years of storage in several collections carried more deleterious and fewer adaptive mutations. The samples with more cycles of germplasm regeneration revealed fewer deleterious and more adaptive mutations. These findings are significant for understanding mutational dynamics and genetic cost in conserved germplasm and have implications for long-term germplasm management and conservation.

Keywords: RNA-Seq; genetic erosion; mutation; mutation burden; plant germplasm conservation.

MeSH terms

  • Mutation
  • Plants* / genetics
  • Seeds* / genetics