Sequence data and genomic in situ hybridization identify the New World diploid Panicum capillare as an ancestral genome of the Old World tetraploid cereal broomcorn millet, P. miliaceum.
Panicum miliaceum (broomcorn millet) is a tetraploid cereal, which was among the first domesticated crops, but is now a minor crop despite its high water use efficiency. The ancestors of this species have not been determined; we aimed to identify likely candidates within the genus, where phylogenies are poorly resolved. Nuclear and chloroplast DNA sequences from P. miliaceum and a range of diploid and tetraploid relatives were used to develop phylogenies of the diploid and tetraploid species. Chromosomal in situ hybridization with genomic DNA as a probe was used to characterize the genomes in the tetraploid P. miliaceum and a tetraploid accession of P. repens. In situ hybridization showed that half the chromosomes of P. miliaceum hybridized more strongly with labelled genomic DNA from P. capillare, and half with labelled DNA from P. repens. Genomic DNA probes differentiated two sets of 18 chromosomes in the tetraploid P. repens. Our phylogenetic data support the allotetraploid origin of P. miliaceum, with the maternal ancestor being P. capillare (or a close relative) and the other genome being shared with P. repens. Our P. repens accession was also an allotetraploid with two dissimilar but closely related genomes, the maternal genome being similar to P. sumatrense. Further collection of Panicum species, particularly from the Old World, is required. It is important to identify why the water-efficient P. miliaceum is now of minimal importance in agriculture, and it may be valuable to exploit the diversity in this species and its ancestors.