Large deletions within the first intron in VRN-1 are associated with spring growth habit in barley and wheat
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The broad adaptability of wheat and barley is in part attributable to their flexible growth habit, in that spring forms have recurrently evolved from the ancestral winter growth habit. In diploid wheat and barley growth habit is determined by allelic variation at the VRN-1 and/or VRN-2 loci, whereas in the polyploid wheat species it is determined primarily by allelic variation at VRN-1. Dominant Vrn-A1 alleles for spring growth habit are frequently associated with mutations in the promoter region in diploid wheat and in the A genome of common wheat. However, several dominant Vrn-A1, Vrn-B1, Vrn-D1 (common wheat) and Vrn-H1 (barley) alleles show no polymorphisms in the promoter region relative to their respective recessive alleles. In this study, we sequenced the complete VRN-1 gene from these accessions and found that all of them have large deletions within the first intron, which overlap in a 4-kb region. Furthermore, a 2.8-kb segment within the 4-kb region showed high sequence conservation among the different recessive alleles. PCR markers for these deletions showed that similar deletions were present in all the accessions with known Vrn-B1 and Vrn-D1 alleles, and in 51 hexaploid spring wheat accessions previously shown to have no polymorphisms in the VRN-A1 promoter region. Twenty-four tetraploid wheat accessions had a similar deletion in VRN-A1 intron 1. We hypothesize that the 2.8-kb conserved region includes regulatory elements important for the vernalization requirement. Epistatic interactions between VRN-H2 and the VRN-H1 allele with the intron 1 deletion suggest that the deleted region may include a recognition site for the flowering repression mediated by the product of the VRN-H2 gene of barley.