Genetic Erosion Under Modern Plant Breeding: Case Studies in Canadian Crop Gene Pools

  • Yong-Bi FuEmail author
  • Yi-Bo Dong
Part of the Sustainable Development and Biodiversity book series (SDEB, volume 7)


There is long-standing concern that modern plant breeding reduces crop genetic diversity. Such reduction may have consequences both for the vulnerability of crops to biotic and abiotic stress. To understand the impact of plant breeding on diversity, we conducted a series of genetic diversity analyses from 1999 to 2009 on existing Canadian gene pools of flax, oat, wheat, soybean, potato and canola. Here we summarize these analyses, highlight major findings, and discuss related issues. These gene pools displayed variable patterns and degrees of genetic diversity decline over the past 100 years of Canadian breeding efforts. Significant allelic loss and genetic shift were found in the wheat and oat gene pools. Such diversity declines underline the need for continuous efforts in conservation of improved crop germplasm and in the diversification of plant breeding materials for sustainable breeding programs.


Plant breeding Canadian crop gene pool Genetic diversity Genetic erosion Allelic change Genetic shift Genetic marker 



We would like to thank Mr. Gregory Peterson for his technical support on these diversity analyses; our previous research collaborators for making this series of genetic diversity analyses possible; and Drs. Benoit Bizimungu, Gavin Humphreys, Brent McCallum, Jennifer Mitchell Fetch, and Malcolm Morrison for their useful comments on the early versions of the manuscript. This works is financially supported by an A-base research project of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.


  1. Allard RW (1999) Principles of plant breeding, 2nd edn. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Anstey TH (1986) One hundred harvests: research branch, agriculture Canada, 1886–1986. Res Branch Agr Canada 27Google Scholar
  3. Archibald ES (1949) Hilgendorf memorial address 1949—the story of Canadian wheat. Experimental Farm Service, Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, OntarioGoogle Scholar
  4. Beversdorf WD, Buzzell RI, Ablett GR, Voldeng HD (1995) Soybean. In: Slinkard AE, Knott DR (eds) Harvest of gold: the history of field crop breeding in Canada. University Extension Press, Saskatoon, pp 153–166Google Scholar
  5. Borlaug N (2007) Sixty-two years of fighting hunger: personal recollections. Euphytica 157:287–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brush SB (1999) Genetic erosion of crop populations in centers of diversity: a revision. In: Proceedings of the technical meeting on the methodology of the FAO world information and early warning system on plant genetic resources, held at the Research Institute of Crop Production, Prague, Czech Republic, 21–23 June 1999 (
  7. Busch L, Gunter V, Mentele T, Tachikawa M, Tanaka K (1994) Socializing nature: technoscience and the transformation of rapeseed into canola. Crop Sci 34:607–614CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Caballero A, Rodríguez-Ramilo S (2010) A new method for the partition of allelic diversity within and between subpopulations. Conserv Genet 11:2219–2229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Campbell AB, Shebeski LH (1986) Wheat in Canada-past and present. In: Slinkard AE, Fowler DB (eds) Wheat production in Canada—a review. University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, pp 1–14Google Scholar
  10. Clunier-Ross T (1995) Mangolds, manure and mixtures: the importance of crop diversity on British farms. Ecologist 25:181–187Google Scholar
  11. Cox TS, Kiang YT, Gorman MB, Rodgers DM (1985) Relationship between coefficient of parentage and genetic similarity indices in soybean. Crop Sci 25:529–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. DePauw RM, Boughton GR, Knott DR (1995) Hard red spring wheat. In: Slinkard AE, Knott DR (eds) Harvest of gold: the history of field crop breeding in Canada. University Extension Press, Saskatoon, pp 5–35Google Scholar
  13. Donini P, Law JR, Koebner RMD, Reeves JC, Cooke RJ (2000) Temporal trends in the diversity of UK wheat. Theor Appl Genet 100:912–917CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Downey RK (1964) A selection of Brassica campestris L. containing no erucic acid in its seed oil. Can J Plant Sci 44:295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Duvick DN (1984) Genetic diversity in major farm crops on the farm and in reserve. Econ Bot 38:161–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fu YB (2005) Genetic erosion in the Canadian gene pools of flax, oat and wheat. CBD Technical Series No. 17:19–21Google Scholar
  17. Fu YB (2006) Impact of plant breeding on genetic diversity of agricultural crops: searching for molecular evidence. Plant Genet Resour 4:71–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fu YB, Gugel RK (2009) Genetic variability of Canadian elite cultivars of summer turnip rape (Brassica rapa L.) revealed by simple sequence repeat markers. Can J Plant Sci 89:865–874CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fu YB, Gugel RK (2010) Genetic diversity of Canadian elite summer rape (Brassica napus L.) cultivars from the pre- to post-canola quality era. Can J Plant Sci 90:23–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fu YB, Peterson GW (2011) Genetic diversity analysis with 454 pyrosequencing and genomic reduction confirmed the eastern and western division in the cultivated barley gene pool. Plant Genome 4:226–237CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fu YB, Somers DJ (2009) Genome-wide reduction of genetic diversity in wheat breeding. Crop Sci 49:161–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fu YB, Somers DJ (2011) Allelic changes in bread wheat cultivars were associated with long-term wheat trait improvements. Euphytica 179:209–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Fu YB, Peterson GW, Scoles G, Rossnagel B, Schoen DJ, Richards KW (2003a) Allelic diversity changes in 96 Canadian oat cultivars released from 1886 to 2001. Crop Sci 43:1989–1995CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Fu YB, Rowland GG, Duguid S, Richards KW (2003b) RAPD analysis of 54 North American flax cultivars. Crop Sci 43:1510–1515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fu YB, Kibite S, Richards KW (2004) Amplified fragment length polymorphism analysis of 96 Canadian oat cultivars released between 1886 and 2001. Can J Plant Sci 84:23–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Fu YB, Peterson GW, Richards KW, Somers D, DePauw RM, Clarke JM (2005) Allelic reduction and genetic shift in the Canadian hard red spring wheat germplasm released from 1845 to 2004. Theor Appl Genet 110:1505–1516CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Fu YB, Peterson GW, Yu JK, Gao LF, Jia JZ, Richards KW (2006) Impact of plant breeding on genetic diversity of the Canadian hard red spring wheat germplasm as revealed by EST-derived SSR markers. Theor Appl Genet 112:1239–1247CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Fu YB, Peterson GW, Morrison MJ (2007) Genetic diversity of Canadian soybean cultivars and exotic germplasm revealed by simple sequence repeat markers. Crop Sci 47:1947–1954CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fu YB, Peterson GW, Richards KW, Tarn TR, Percy JE (2009) Genetic diversity of Canadian and exotic potato germplasm revealed by simple sequence repeat markers. Am J Potato Res 86:38–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fu YB, Cheng B, Peterson GW (2014) Genetic diversity analysis of yellow mustard (Sinapis alba L.) germplasm based on genotyping by sequencing. Genet Resour Crop Evol 61:579–594CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hedrick PW (2000) Genetics of populations, 2nd edn. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Sudbury, MAGoogle Scholar
  32. Hirsch CN, Hirsch CD, Felcher K, Coombs J, Zarka D et al (2013) Retrospective view of North American potato (Solanumtuberosum L.) breeding in the 20th and 21st centuries G3 (Bethesda) 3:1003–1013Google Scholar
  33. Holland JB (1997) Oat improvement. In: Kang MS (ed) Crop improvement for the 21st century. Research Signpost, Trivandrum, pp 57–98Google Scholar
  34. Jiao Y, Zhao H, Ren L, Song W, Zeng B, Guo J, Wang B, Liu Z, Chen J, Li W, Zhang W, Xie S, Lai J (2012) Genome-wide genetic changes during modern breeding of maize. Nat Genet 44:812–815CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Kenaschuk EO, Rowland GG (1995) Flax. In: Slinkard AE, Knott DR (eds) Harvest of gold: the history of field crop breeding in Canada. University Extension Press, Saskatoon, pp 173–176Google Scholar
  36. Marshall G (1989) Flax: breeding and utilisation. Kluwer Academic Publishers, DordrechtGoogle Scholar
  37. McCallum BD, DePauw RM (2008) A review of wheat cultivars grown in the Canadian prairies. Can J Plant Sci 88:649–677CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McKenzie RIH, Harder DE (1995) Oat. In: Slinkard AE, Knott DR (eds) Harvest of gold: the history of field crop breeding in Canada. University Extension Press, Saskatoon, pp 98–112Google Scholar
  39. McKinnon D (1998) Oat: Situation and outlook for 1998–1999. Biweekly Bull Agri Agri-Food Canada 11:1–4Google Scholar
  40. Morrison MJ, Voldeng HD, Cober ER (2000) Agronomic changes from 58 years of genetic improvement of short-season soybean cultivars in Canada. Agron J 92:780–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. National Research Council (1972) Genetic vulnerability of major crops. The National Academy of Sciences, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  42. Poland JA, Rife TW (2012) Genotyping-by-sequencing for plant breeding and genetics. Plant Gen 5:92–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Rauf S, Teixeira da Silva JA, Khan AA, Naveed A (2010) Consequences of plant breeding on genetic diversity. Int J Plant Breed 4:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Rodgers DM, Murphy JP, Frey KJ (1983) Impact of plant breeding on the grain yield and genetic diversity of spring oats. Crop Sci 23:737–740CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Slinkard AE, Knott DR (1995) Harvest of gold: the history of field crop breeding in Canada. University Extension Press, SaskatoonGoogle Scholar
  46. Spooner DM, Salas A (2006) Structure, biosystematics and genetic resources. In: Gopal J, Khurana SMP (eds) Handbook of potato production, improvement, and postharvest management. Food Prod, Binghamton, pp 1–39Google Scholar
  47. Stefansson BR, Downey RK (1995) Rapeseed. In: Slinkard AE, Knott DR (eds) Harvest of gold: the history of field crop breeding in Canada. University Extension Press, Saskatoon, pp 140–152Google Scholar
  48. Swanson T (1996) Global values of biological diversity: the public interest in the conservation of plant genetic resources for agriculture. Plant Genet Res Newsl 105:1–7Google Scholar
  49. Tanksley SD, McCouch SR (1997) Seed banks and molecular maps: unlocking genetic potential from the wild. Science 277:1063–1066CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Tarn TR, Tai GCC, de Jong H, Murphy AM, Seabrook JEA (1992) Breeding potato for long-day, temperate climates. Plant Breed Rev 9:217–232Google Scholar
  51. Tripp R (1996) Biodiversity and modern crop varieties: sharpening the debate. Agr Hum Values 13:48–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Turner S, Molyneaux H (2004) Agricultural science, potato breeding, and the Fredericton Experimental Station, 1912–1966. Acadiensis 33:1–25Google Scholar
  53. van de Wouw M, van Hintum T, Kik C, van Treuren R, Visser B (2010) Genetic diversity trends in twentieth century crop cultivars: a meta analysis. Theor Appl Genet 120:1241–1252CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  54. Vellve R (1993) The decline of diversity in European agriculture. Ecologist 23:64–69Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Plant Gene Resources of CanadaSaskatoon Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food CanadaSaskatoonCanada

Personalised recommendations