Ectopic Expression of Triticum polonicum VRT-A2 Underlies Elongated Glumes and Grains in Hexaploid Wheat in a Dosage-Dependent Manner

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Flower development is an important determinant of grain yield in crops. In wheat (Triticum spp.), natural variation for the size of spikelet and floral organs is particularly evident in Triticum turgidum ssp. polonicum (also termed Triticum polonicum), a tetraploid subspecies of wheat with long glumes, lemmas, and grains. Using map-based cloning, we identified VEGETATIVE TO REPRODUCTIVE TRANSITION 2 (VRT2), which encodes a MADS-box transcription factor belonging to the SHORT VEGETATIVE PHASE family, as the gene underlying the T. polonicum long-glume (P1) locus. The causal P1 mutation is a sequence rearrangement in intron-1 that results in ectopic expression of the T. polonicum VRT-A2 allele. Based on allelic variation studies, we propose that the intron-1 mutation in VRT-A2 is the unique T. polonicum subspecies-defining polymorphism, which was later introduced into hexaploid wheat via natural hybridizations. Near-isogenic lines differing for the P1 locus revealed a gradient effect of P1 across spikelets and within florets. Transgenic lines of hexaploid wheat carrying the T. polonicum VRT-A2 allele show that expression levels of VRT-A2 are highly correlated with spike, glume, grain, and floral organ length. These results highlight how changes in expression profiles, through variation in cis-regulation, can affect agronomic traits in a dosage-dependent manner in polyploid crops.