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!
Molecular trigger for Cerebral Cavernous Malformation identified
26.11.2015 | EMBO - excellence in life sciences
Peering into cell structures where neurodiseases emerge
26.11.2015 | University of Delaware
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.
Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...
Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...
25.11.2015 | Event News
17.11.2015 | Event News
21.10.2015 | Event News
26.11.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
26.11.2015 | Materials Sciences
26.11.2015 | Earth Sciences