Early maize farmers selected for genes that improved the harvesting of sunlight, a new detailed study of how plants use 'doubles' of their genomes reveals. The findings could help current efforts to improve existing crop varieties.
Oxford University researchers captured a 'genetic snapshot' of maize as it existed 10 million years ago when the plant made a double of its genome – a 'whole genome duplication' event.
They then traced how maize evolved to use these 'copied' genes to cope with the pressures of domestication, which began around 12,000 years ago. They discovered that these copied genes were vital to optimising photosynthesis in maize leaves and that early farmers selecting for them 'fuelled' the transformation of maize into a high-yield crop.
A report of the research is published this week in the journal Genome Research.
'Although whole genome duplication events are widespread in plants finding evidence of exactly how plants use this new 'toolbox' of copied genes is very difficult,' said Dr Steve Kelly of Oxford University's Department of Plant Sciences, lead author of the report.
'With crops like wheat it's not yet possible for us to unravel the 'before and after' of the associated genetic changes, but with maize we can chart how these gene copies were first acquired, then put to work, and finally 'whittled down' to create the modern maize plant farmed today.'
It is particularly useful for such genetic detective work that close relatives of maize did not duplicate their genomes 10 million years ago: those that retained a single copy went on to become the plant we now know as sorghum. This enabled the researchers to compare genetic data from these 'duplicated' and 'non-duplicated' descendants of ancient maize, something that is not yet possible with other duplicated crops like wheat.
In the wild plants have to overcome the challenges posed by pathogens and predators in order to survive. However, once domestication by humans began plants grown as crops had to cope with a new set of artificial selection pressures, such as delivering a high yield and greater stress tolerance.
'Whole genome duplication events are key in allowing plants to evolve new abilities,' said Dr Kelly. 'Understanding the complete trajectory of duplication and how copied genes can transform a plant is relevant for current efforts to increase the photosynthetic efficiency of crops, such as the C4 Rice Project [c4rice.irri.org/].
Our study is great evidence that optimising photosynthesis is really important for creating high-yield crops and shows how human selection has 'sculpted' copies of genes to create one of the world's staple food sources.'
University of Oxford News Office | Eurek Alert!
First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife
Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie
Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.
This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...
Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion
Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
26.10.2016 | Materials Sciences
26.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
26.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy