Establishing the A. E. Watkins landrace cultivar collection as a resource for systematic gene discovery in bread wheat

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In the 1930s A. E. Watkins acquired landrace cultivars of bread wheatTriticum aestivum L. from official channels of the board of Trade in London, many of which originated fromlocal markets in 32 countries. The geographic distribution of the 826 landrace cultivars of the current collection,here called the Watkins collection, covers many Asian and European countries and some from Africa.The cultivars were genotyped with 41 microsatellite markers in order toinvestigate the genetic diversity and population structure of the collection.A high level of genetic diversity was found, higher than in a collection of modernEuropean winter bread wheat varieties from 1945-2000.Furthermore, although weak, the population structure of the Watkins collection reveals nineancestral geographical groupings.An exchange of genetic material between ancestral groups before commercial wheat-breeding startedwould be a possible explanation for this.The increased knowledge regarding the diversity of the Watkins collection was used todevelop resources for wheat research and breeding, one of them a core set, which captures the majority of the genetic diversity detected.The understanding of genetic diversity and population structure together with theavailability of breeding resources should help to accelerate thedetection of new alleles in the Watkins collection.