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Domestication history in the Medicago sativa species complex: inferences from nuclear sequence polymorphism


Marie-Hélène Muller, Fax: +33 4 67 29 39 90; E-mail:


DNA sequence polymorphism carries genealogical information and allows for testing hypotheses on selection and population history, especially through coalescent-based analysis. Understanding the evolutionary forces at work in plant domestication and subsequent selection is of critical importance for the management of genetic resources. In this study, we surveyed DNA sequence diversity at two assumed neutral nuclear loci in the wild–domesticated species complex of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.). A high level of polymorphism was detected. The domesticated pool contains on average 31% less diversity than the wild pool, but with a high heterogeneity among loci. Coalescent simulations of the domestication process showed that this result cannot be explained by assuming a constant population size but is rather consistent with a demographic bottleneck during domestication. A very low level of divergence was detected between the wild and the domesticated forms as well as between the related subspecies of the M. sativa species complex. However, the originality of the Spanish wild populations, already observed based on mitochondrial DNA polymorphism, was confirmed. These results, together with patterns of intrapopulation polymorphism, suggest that nuclear sequence polymorphism could be a promising tool, complementary to mitochondrial DNA and phenotypic evaluations, to investigate historical demographic and evolutionary processes.