Genetic evidence for a western Chinese origin of broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum).
Broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum) is a key domesticated cereal that has been associated with the north China centre of agricultural origins. Early archaeobotanical evidence for this crop has generated two major debates. First, its contested presence in pre-7000 cal. BP sites in eastern Europe has admitted the possibility of a western origin. Second, its occurrence in the 7th and 8th millennia cal. BP in diverse regions of northern China is consistent with several possible origin foci, associated with different Neolithic cultures. We used microsatellite and granule-bound starch synthase I (GBSSI) genotype data from 341 landrace samples across Eurasia, including 195 newly genotyped samples from China, to address these questions. A spatially explicit discriminative modelling approach favours an eastern Eurasian origin for the expansion of broomcorn millet. This is consistent with recent archaeobotanical and chronological re-evaluations, and stable isotopic data. The same approach, together with the distribution of GBSSI alleles, is also suggestive that the origin of broomcorn millet expansion was in western China. This second unexpected finding stimulates new questions regarding the ecology of wild millet and vegetation dynamics in China prior to the mid-Holocene domestication of millet. The chronological relationship between population expansion and domestication is unclear, but our analyses are consistent with the western Loess Plateau being at least one region of primary domestication of broomcorn millet. Patterns of genetic variation indicate that this region was the source of populations to the west in Eurasia, which broomcorn probably reached via the Inner Asia Mountain Corridor from the 3rd millennium BC. A secondary westward expansion along the steppe may have taken place from the 2nd millennium BC.