Abstract & Bio
 Title: “ Introgression of adaptive traits from wild relatives: using ecology and genomics to harness new variation to increase crop climatic resilience”




Dr Eric von Wettberg



Associate Professor,
Biological Sciences,
Florida International University,


Domesticated species are impacted in unintended ways during domestication and breeding. Changes in the nature and intensity of selection impart genetic drift, reduce diversity and increase the frequency of deleterious alleles. Such outcomes constrain our ability to expand the cultivation of crops into environments that differ from those under which domestication occurred. We address this need in chickpea, among the world’s most important pulse legumes, by conserving, characterizing and harnessing the diversity of wild crop relatives. We document an extreme genetic bottleneck between modern breeding lines and the wild progenitor species, while also deciphering the genetic history of wild populations. We provide evidence of ancestral adaptations in wild populations for seed coat color crypsis and demonstrate variation between wild and cultivated accessions for agronomic properties including flowering time, seed shattering, seed nutrient density, nitrogen responsiveness and drought adaptation. The assembled germplasm will serve as an essential resource for future chickpea breeding, while our methods may inform collection of other wild crop progenitor species.


Dr. Eric JB von Wettberg is an Associate Professor and evolutionary ecologist at Florida International University with a research program focused on the consequences of genetic bottlenecks for wild relatives of crops and endangered species. He received a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Brown University in 2007 and was a NIH National Research Service Award postdoc at the University of California at Davis from 2007-2009.  Broadly trained in evolution, genetics, and ecology, Dr. von Wettberg uses a combination of field, greenhouse common garden, and laboratory approaches.

Dr. von Wettbergs research program has two main emphases. Many crops, like chickpea, pigeonpea and lentil, have lost genetic variation as a result of human cultivation and selection. This lack of genetic variation reduces resilience of these crops to expected effects of climate change. Von Wettberg and his research group are using a new collection of the wild relatives of chickpea to restore genetic variation to cultivated chickpea, to preserve germplasm resources, and to better understand the genetic basis of flowering time and drought tolerance. A second component of von Wettbergs research examines the loss of genetic variation in rare and endangered plants in Florida and the Caribbean. He was a Fulbright scholar in 1999-2000 in Denmark, an EPA-STAR graduate research fellow from 2004-2007, an HHMI faculty teaching scholar (2012-2013), a visiting faculty member at Ecole Nacional Superieure Agronomique de Toulouse France in 2011, and a 2017 Chinese Academy of Science Fellow.  He was elected secretary of the International Legume Society in 2016.