Crop domestication provides a useful model system to characterize the molecular and developmental bases of morphological variation in plants. Among the most universal changes resulting from selection during crop domestication is the loss of seed and fruit dispersal mechanisms, which greatly facilitates harvesting efficiency. In this review, we consider the molecular genetic and developmental bases of the loss of seed shattering and fruit dispersal in six major crop plant families, three of which are primarily associated with seed crops (Poaceae, Brassicaceae, Fabaceae) and three of which are associated with fleshy-fruited crops (Solanaceae, Rosaceae, Rutaceae). We find that the developmental basis of the loss of seed/fruit dispersal is conserved in a number of independently domesticated crops, indicating the widespread occurrence of developmentally convergent evolution in response to human selection. With regard to the molecular genetic approaches used to characterize the basis of this trait, traditional biparental quantitative trait loci mapping remains the most commonly used strategy; however, recent advances in next-generation sequencing technologies are now providing new avenues to map and characterize loss of shattering/dispersal alleles. We anticipate that continued application of these approaches, together with candidate gene analyses informed by known shattering candidate genes from other crops, will lead to a rapid expansion of our understanding of this critical domestication trait.
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