Evolution and domestication of seed structure shown to use same genetic mutation
7th July 2011
For the first time, scientists have identified a mutation in plants that was selected twice - during both natural evolution and domestication.
The mutation has been identified as the source of variation in the evolution of fruit morphology in Brassica plants and it was also the source of key changes during the domestication of rice.
“We have shown that the genetic source of both natural and man-made changes was the same,” said one of the authors on the findings, Dr Robert Sablowski from the John Innes Centre, which is strategically funded by the BBSRC.
“These insights indicate that evolutionary development may have more to offer plant breeders than previously anticipated,” he said.
Wild rice scatters its seeds easily to maximise dispersal, so an important part of domestication was to select for cultivars that retain seeds that can then be harvested. Previous studies identified the mutation - a single nucleotide change - that reduced seed dispersal. John Innes Centre scientists were surprised to find that the same nucleotide change was behind variation in the evolution of fruit morphology in the Brassica plants.
The Brassica family and rice are separated by 140 million years of evolution and the anatomies of their fruit are very different. However, this work, published in the journal Current Biology, shows that the same genetic tools are applicable over a large evolutionary distance and that evolution can offer insights into the tools that might be useful to breeders.
“Ever since Darwin used domestication as a model for evolution there has been debate over whether the same type of variation is relevant to both domestication and natural evolution,” said Dr Sablowski.
“In this study we have shown that the same type of variation is relevant to both processes. In addition, we saw that a surprisingly simple genetic change is enough to explain differences between the fruits of different Brassica relatives. Now further examples will be needed to show whether the simplicity of the regulatory change in our case is exceptional.”
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About the John Innes Centre:
The John Innes Centre, www.jic.ac.uk, is a world-leading research centre strategically funded by the BBSRC www.bbsrc.ac.uk based on Norwich Research Park www.nrp.org.uk . Its mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, and to apply its knowledge to benefit agriculture, human health and well-being, and the environment. JIC delivers world class bioscience outcomes leading to wealth and job creation, and generating high returns for the UK economy.