Barley Developmental Mutants: The High Road to Understand the Cereal Spike Morphology
CREA—GB, Research Centre for Genomics and Bioinformatics, Fiorenzuola d’Arda 29017, Italy
Department of Agricultural and Food Science, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Reggio Emilia 42122, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Rosa Rao and Giandomenico Corrado
Diversity 2017, 9(2), 21; https://doi.org/10.3390/d9020021
Received: 23 February 2017 / Revised: 5 May 2017 / Accepted: 6 May 2017 / Published: 11 May 2017
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Plant Genetics and Biotechnology in Biodiversity)
A better understanding of the developmental plan of a cereal spike is of relevance when designing the plant for the future, in which innovative traits can be implemented through pre-breeding strategies. Barley developmental mutants can be a Mendelian solution for identifying genes controlling key steps in the establishment of the spike morphology. Among cereals, barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) is one of the best investigated crop plants and is a model species for the Triticeae tribe, thanks to several characteristics, including, among others, its adaptability to a wide range of environments, its diploid genome, and its self-pollinating mating system, as well as the availability of its genome sequence and a wide array of genomic resources. Among them, large collections of natural and induced mutants have been developed since the 1920s, with the aim of understanding developmental and physiological processes and exploiting mutation breeding in crop improvement. The collections are not only comprehensive in terms of single Mendelian spike mutants, but with regards to double and triple mutants derived from crosses between simple mutants, as well as near isogenic lines (NILs) that are useful for genetic studies. In recent years the integration of the most advanced omic technologies with historical mutation-genetics research has helped in the isolation and validation of some of the genes involved in spike development. New interrogatives have raised the question about how the behavior of a single developmental gene in different genetic backgrounds can help in understanding phenomena like expressivity, penetrance, phenotypic plasticity, and instability. In this paper, some genetic and epigenetic studies on this topic are reviewed.