Insight into the genetic bases of climatic adaptation in experimentally evolving wheat populations


B. Rhoné, Fax: +33 (0)1 69 33 23 40; E-mail:


Experimental populations evolving under natural selection represent an interesting tool to study genetic bases of adaptation. Evolution of genes possibly involved in adaptive response can be followed together with the corresponding phenotypic traits. Using experimental populations of hexaploid wheat, we studied the evolution of flowering time, a major adaptive trait that synchronizes the initiation of reproduction and the occurrence of favourable environmental conditions. During 12 generations, three populations were grown in contrasted environments (Vervins North France, Le Moulon near Paris, Toulouse South France) under the influence of natural selection, drift, mutation and recombination. Evolution of diversity at the major gene VRN-1 involved in wheat vernalization response has been analysed jointly with earliness estimated in controlled conditions. Whatever the population, rapid phenotypic changes as well as parallel genotypic variations were observed in the first seven generations, probably as the result of selection acting on this major gene which explains 80% of the trait variation overall. Different allelic combinations at physically unlinked copies of VRN-1 located on distinct genomes (A, B and D) were selected between populations. As theoretically expected, due to population differentiation, a high level of genetic diversity was maintained overall in generation 12. Surprisingly, in two populations out of three, the emergence of new alleles by mutation or migration, coupled with temporal variable selection or frequency-dependent selection, allowed to maintain within-population diversity despite local genetic drift and natural selection. This result may plead for an evolutionary approach of wheat genetic resource conservation.