Chromosome identification is essential for linking sequence and chromosomal maps, verifying sequence assemblies, showing structural variations and tracking inheritance or recombination of chromosomes and chromosomal segments during evolution and breeding programs. Unfortunately, identification of individual chromosomes and chromosome arms has been a major challenge for some economically important crop species with a near-continuous chromosome size range and similar morphology. Here, we developed oligonucleotide-based chromosome-specific probes that enabled us to establish a reference chromosome identification system for oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq., 2n = 32). Massive oligonucleotide sequence pools were anchored to individual chromosome arms using dual and triple fluorescent in situ hybridization (EgOligoFISH). Three fluorescently tagged probe libraries were developed to contain, in total 52,506 gene-rich single-copy 47-mer oligonucleotides spanning each 0.2-0.5 Mb across strategically placed chromosome regions. They generated 19 distinct FISH signals and together with rDNA probes enabled identification of all 32 E. guineensis chromosome arms. The probes were able to identify individual homoeologous chromosome regions in the related Arecaceae palm species: American oil palm (Elaeis oleifera), date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) and coconut (Cocos nucifera) showing the comparative organization and concerted evolution of genomes in the Arecaceae. The oligonucleotide probes developed here provide a valuable approach to chromosome arm identification and allow tracking chromosome transfer in hybridization and breeding programs in oil palm, as well as comparative studies within Arecaceae.
Oil palm breeding involves crossing dura and pisifera palms to produce tenera progeny with greatly improved oil yield. Oil yield is controlled by variant alleles of a type II MADS-box gene, SHELL, that impact the presence and thickness of the endocarp, or shell, surrounding the fruit kernel. We identified six novel SHELL alleles in noncommercial African germplasm populations from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. These populations provide extensive diversity to harness genetic, mechanistic and phenotypic variation associated with oil yield in a globally critical crop. We investigated phenotypes in heteroallelic combinations, as well as SHELL heterodimerization and subcellular localization by yeast two-hybrid, bimolecular fluorescence complementation and gene expression analyses. Four novel SHELL alleles were associated with fruit form phenotype. Candidate heterodimerization partners were identified, and interactions with EgSEP3 and subcellular localization were SHELL allele-specific. Our findings reveal allele-specific mechanisms by which variant SHELL alleles impact yield, as well as speculative insights into the potential role of SHELL in single-gene oil yield heterosis. Future field trials for combinability and introgression may further optimize yield and improve sustainability.
Somaclonal variation arises in plants and animals when differentiated somatic cells are induced into a pluripotent state, but the resulting clones differ from each other and from their parents. In agriculture, somaclonal variation has hindered the micropropagation of elite hybrids and genetically modified crops, but the mechanism responsible remains unknown. The oil palm fruit 'mantled' abnormality is a somaclonal variant arising from tissue culture that drastically reduces yield, and has largely halted efforts to clone elite hybrids for oil production. Widely regarded as an epigenetic phenomenon, 'mantling' has defied explanation, but here we identify the MANTLED locus using epigenome-wide association studies of the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis. DNA hypomethylation of a LINE retrotransposon related to rice Karma, in the intron of the homeotic gene DEFICIENS, is common to all mantled clones and is associated with alternative splicing and premature termination. Dense methylation near the Karma splice site (termed the Good Karma epiallele) predicts normal fruit set, whereas hypomethylation (the Bad Karma epiallele) predicts homeotic transformation, parthenocarpy and marked loss of yield. Loss of Karma methylation and of small RNA in tissue culture contributes to the origin of mantled, while restoration in spontaneous revertants accounts for non-Mendelian inheritance. The ability to predict and cull mantling at the plantlet stage will facilitate the introduction of higher performing clones and optimize environmentally sensitive land resources.