Knowledge on population diversity and structure is of fundamental importance for conifer breeding programs. In this study, we concentrated on the development and application of high-density single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers through a high-throughput sequencing technique termed as specific-locus amplified fragment sequencing (SLAF-seq) for the economically important conifer tree species, Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata
). Based on the SLAF-seq, we successfully established a high-density SNP panel consisting of 108,753 genomic SNPs from Chinese fir. This SNP panel facilitated us in gaining insight into the genetic base of the Chinese fir advance breeding population with 221 genotypes for its genetic variation, relationship and diversity, and population structure status. Overall, the present population appears to have considerable genetic variability. Most (94.15%) of the variability was attributed to the genetic differentiation of genotypes, very limited (5.85%) variation occurred on the population (sub-origin set) level. Correspondingly, low FST
(0.0285–0.0990) values were seen for the sub-origin sets. When viewing the genetic structure of the population regardless of its sub-origin set feature, the present SNP data opened a new population picture where the advanced Chinese fir breeding population could be divided into four genetic sets, as evidenced by phylogenetic tree and population structure analysis results, albeit some difference in membership of the corresponding set (cluster vs. group). It also suggested that all the genetic sets were admixed clades revealing a complex relationship of the genotypes of this population. With a step wise pruning procedure, we captured a core collection (core 0.650) harboring 143 genotypes that maintains all the allele, diversity, and specific genetic structure of the whole population. This generalist core is valuable for the Chinese fir advanced breeding program and further genetic/genomic studies.
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