Background: Sequence exchange between homologous chromosomes through crossing over and gene conversion is highly conserved among eukaryotes, contributing to genome stability and genetic diversity. A lack of recombination limits breeding efforts in crops; therefore, increasing recombination rates can reduce linkage drag and generate new genetic combinations. Results: We use computational analysis of 13 recombinant inbred mapping populations to assess crossover and gene conversion frequency in the hexaploid genome of wheat (Triticum aestivum). We observe that high-frequency crossover sites are shared between populations and that closely related parents lead to populations with more similar crossover patterns. We demonstrate that gene conversion is more prevalent and covers more of the genome in wheat than in other plants, making it a critical process in the generation of new haplotypes, particularly in centromeric regions where crossovers are rare. We identify quantitative trait loci for altered gene conversion and crossover frequency and confirm functionality for a novel RecQ helicase gene that belongs to an ancient clade that is missing in some plant lineages including Arabidopsis. Conclusions: This is the first gene to be demonstrated to be involved in gene conversion in wheat. Harnessing the RecQ helicase has the potential to break linkage drag utilizing widespread gene conversions.
- Gene conversion