Phenotypic evolution through variation in splicing of the noncoding RNA COOLAIR

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The extent to which natural polymorphisms in noncoding sequences have functional consequences is still unknown. A large proportion of the natural variation in flowering in Arabidopsis thaliana accessions is due to noncoding cis polymorphisms that define distinct haplotypes of FLOWERING LOCUS C (FLC). Here, we show that a single natural intronic polymorphism in one haplotype affects FLC expression and thus flowering by specifically changing splicing of the FLC antisense transcript COOLAIR. Altered antisense splicing increases FLC expression via a cotranscriptional mechanism involving capping of the FLC nascent transcript. Single noncoding polymorphisms can therefore be a major contributor to phenotypic evolution through modulation of noncoding transcripts.