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The Taming of the Silkworm
Silkworms, Bombyx mori, represent one of the few domesticated insects, having been domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Xia et al. (p. 433, published online 27 August) sequenced 29 domestic and 11 wild silkworm lines and identified genes that were most likely to be selected during domestication. These genes represent those that enhance silk production, reproduction, and growth. Furthermore, silkworms were probably only domesticated once from a large progenitor population, rather than on multiple occasions, as has been observed for other domesticated animals.
A single–base pair resolution silkworm genetic variation map was constructed from 40 domesticated and wild silkworms, each sequenced to approximately threefold coverage, representing 99.88% of the genome. We identified ~16 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms, many indels, and structural variations. We find that the domesticated silkworms are clearly genetically differentiated from the wild ones, but they have maintained large levels of genetic variability, suggesting a short domestication event involving a large number of individuals. We also identified signals of selection at 354 candidate genes that may have been important during domestication, some of which have enriched expression in the silk gland, midgut, and testis. These data add to our understanding of the domestication processes and may have applications in devising pest control strategies and advancing the use of silkworms as efficient bioreactors.