Climatic adaptation is an example of a genotype-by-environment interaction (G×E) of fitness. Selection upon gene expression regulatory variation can contribute to adaptive phenotypic diversity; however, surprisingly few studies have examined how genome-wide patterns of gene expression G×E are manifested in response to environmental stress and other selective agents that cause climatic adaptation. Here, we characterize drought-responsive expression divergence between upland (drought-adapted) and lowland (mesic) ecotypes of the perennial C4 grass, Panicum hallii, in natural field conditions. Overall, we find that cis-regulatory elements contributed to gene expression divergence across 47% of genes, 7.2% of which exhibit drought-responsive G×E. While less well-represented, we observe 1294 genes (7.8%) with trans effects. Trans-by-environment interactions are weaker and much less common than cis G×E, occurring in only 0.7% of trans-regulated genes. Finally, gene expression heterosis is highly enriched in expression phenotypes with significant G×E. As such, modes of inheritance that drive heterosis, such as dominance or overdominance, may be common among G×E genes. Interestingly, motifs specific to drought-responsive transcription factors are highly enriched in the promoters of genes exhibiting G×E and trans regulation, indicating that expression G×E and heterosis may result from the evolution of transcription factors or their binding sites. P. hallii serves as the genomic model for its close relative and emerging biofuel crop, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Accordingly, the results here not only aid in the discovery of the genetic mechanisms that underlie local adaptation but also provide a foundation to improve switchgrass yield under water-limited conditions.
The presence of substantial genetic variation for water-use efficiency (WUE) suggests that natural selection plays a role in maintaining alleles that affect WUE. Soil water deficit can reduce plant survival, and is likely to impose selection to increase WUE, whereas competition for resources may select for decreased WUE to ensure water acquisition. We tested the fitness consequences of natural allelic variation in a single gene (MPK12) that influences WUE in Arabidopsis, using transgenic lines contrasting in MPK12 alleles, under four treatments; drought/competition, drought/no competition, well-watered/competition, well-watered/no competition. Results revealed an allele 9 environment interaction: Low WUE plants performed better in competition, resulting from increased resource consumption. Contrastingly, high WUE individuals performed better in no competition, irrespective of water availability, presumably from enhanced water conservation and nitrogen acquisition. Our findings suggest that selection can influence MPK12 evolution, and represents the first assessment of plant fitness resulting from natural allelic variation at a single locus affecting WUE.
Aims Variation in precipitation strongly influences plant growth, species distributions and genetic diversity. Intraspecific variation in phenotypic plasticity, the ability of a genotype to alter its growth, morphology or physiology in response to the environment, could influence species responses to changing precipitation and climate change. Despite this, the patterns and mechanisms of intraspecific variation in plasticity to variable precipitation, and the degree to which genotype responses to precipitation are influenced by variation in edaphic conditions, remain poorly understood. Thus, we determined whether genotypes of a widespread C4 grass (Panicum virgatum L., switchgrass) varied in aboveground productivity in response to changes in precipitation, and if site edaphic conditions modified genotype aboveground productivity responses to precipitation. We also determined if genotype productivity responses to precipitation are related to plasticity in underlying growth and phenological traits. Methods Nine P. virgatum genotypes originating from an aridity gradient were grown under four treatments spanning the 10th to the 90th percentiles of annual precipitation at two sites in central Texas: one site with deep, fine-textured soils and another site with shallow, coarse-textured soils. We measured volumetric soil water content (VWC), aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), tiller production (tiller number), average tiller mass, canopy height, leaf area index (LAI) and flowering time on all plants at both sites and examined genotype responses to changes in precipitation. Important Findings Across precipitation treatments, VWC was 39% lower and more variable at the site with shallow, coarse-textured soils compared to the site with deep, fine-textured soils. ANPP averaged across genotypes and precipitation treatments was also 103% higher at the site with deep, fine-textured soils relative to the site with shallow, coarse-textured soils, indicating substantial differences in site water limitation. Where site water limitation was higher, ANPP of most genotypes increased with increasing precipitation. Where site water limitation was less, genotypes expressed variable plasticity in response to precipitation, from no change to almost a 5-fold increase in ANPP with increasing precipitation. Genotype ANPP increased with greater tiller mass, LAI and later flowering time at both sites, but not with tiller number at either site. Genotype ANPP plasticity increased with genotype tiller mass and LAI plasticity at the site with deep, fine-textured soils, and only with genotype tiller mass plasticity at the site with shallow, coarse-textured soils. Thus, variation in genotype ANPP plasticity was explained primarily by variation in tiller and leaf growth. Genotype ANPP plasticity was not associated with temperature or aridity at the genotype’s origin. Edaphic factors such as soil depth and texture may alter genotype ANPP responses to precipitation, and the underlying growth traits contributing to the ANPP response. Thus, edaphic factors may contribute to spatial variation in genotype performance and success under altered precipitation.
Chromosomal inversions can provide windows onto the cytogenetic, molecular, evolutionary and demographic histories of a species. Here we investigate a paracentric 1.17 Mb inversion on chromosome 4 of Arabidopsis thaliana with nucleotide precision of its borders. The inversion is created by Vandal transposon activity, splitting an F-box and relocating a pericentric heterochromatin segment in juxtaposition with euchromatin without affecting the epigenetic landscape. Examination of the RegMap panel and the 1001 Arabidopsis genomes revealed more than 170 inversion accessions in Europe and North America. The SNP patterns revealed historical recombinations from which we infer diverse haplotype patterns, ancient introgression events and phylogenetic relationships. We find a robust association between the inversion and fecundity under drought. We also find linkage disequilibrium (LD) between the inverted region and the early flowering Col-FRIGIDA allele. Finally, SNP analysis elucidates the origin of the inversion to South-Eastern Europe ~5,000 years ago and the FRI-Col allele to North-West Europe, and reveals the spreading of a single haplotype to North America during the 17th to 19th century. The “American haplotype” was identified from several European localities, potentially due to return migration.
Identifying the physiological and genetic basis of stress tolerance in plants has proven to be critical to understanding adaptation in both agricultural and natural systems. However, many discoveries were initially made in the controlled conditions of greenhouses or laboratories, not in the field. To test the comparability of drought responses across field and greenhouse environments, we undertook three independent experiments using the switchgrass reference genotype Alamo AP13. We analyzed physiological and gene-expression variation across four locations, two sampling times and three years. Relatively similar physiological responses and expression coefficients of variation across experiments masked highly dissimilar gene expression responses to drought. Critically, a drought experiment utilizing small pots in the greenhouse elicited nearly identical physiological changes as an experiment conducted in the field, but an order of magnitude more differentially expressed genes. However, we were able to define a suite of several hundred genes that were differentially expressed across all experiments. This list was strongly enriched in photosynthesis, water status and reactive oxygen species responsive genes. The strong across-experiment correlations between physiological plasticity—but not differential gene expression—highlight the complex and diverse genetic mechanisms that can produce phenotypically similar responses to various soil water deficits.
All plants must optimize their growth with finite resources. Water use efficiency (WUE) measures the relationship between biomass acquisition and transpired water. In the present study, we performed two experiments to understand the genetic basis of WUE and other parameters of plant-water interaction under control and water-limited conditions. Our study used two inbred natural accessions of Brachy-podium distachyon, a model grass species with close phylogenetic affinity to temperate forage and cereal crops. First, we identify the soil water content which causes a reduction in leaf relative water content and an increase in WUE. Second, we present results from a large phenotyping experiment utilizing a recombinant inbred line mapping population derived from these same two natural accessions. We identify QTLs associated with environmentally-insensitive genetic variation in WUE, including a pair of epistatically interacting loci. We also identify QTLs associated with constitutive differences in biomass and a QTL describing an environmentally-sensitive difference in leaf carbon content. Finally, we present a new link-age map for this mapping population based on new SNP markers as well as updated genomic positions for previously described markers. Our studies provide an initial characterization of plant-water relations in B. distachyon and identify candidate genomic regions involved in WUE.
Heterosis has been widely used in agriculture, but the molecular mechanism for this remains largely elusive. In Arabidopsis hybrids and allopolyploids, increased photosynthetic and metabolic activities are linked to altered expression of circadian clock regulators, including CIRCADIAN CLOCK ASSOCIATED1 (CCA1). It is unknown whether a similar mechanism mediates heterosis in maize hybrids. Here we report that higher levels of carbon fixation and starch accumulation in the maize hybrids are associated with altered temporal gene expression. Two maize CCA1 homologs, ZmCCA1a and ZmCCA1b, are diurnally up-regulated in the hybrids. Expressing ZmCCA1 complements the cca1 mutant phenotype in Arabidopsis, and overexpressing ZmCCA1b disrupts circadian rhythms and biomass heterosis. Furthermore, overexpressing ZmCCA1b in maize reduced chlorophyll content and plant height. Reduced height stems from reduced node elongation but not total node number in both greenhouse and field conditions. Phenotypes are less severe in the field than in the greenhouse, suggesting that enhanced light and/or metabolic activities in the field can compensate for altered circadian regulation in growth vigor. Chromatin immunoprecipitation-sequencing (ChIP-seq) analysis reveals a temporal shift of ZmCCA1-binding targets to the early morning in the hybrids, suggesting that activation of morning-phased genes in the hybrids promotes photosynthesis and growth vigor. This temporal shift of ZmCCA1-binding targets correlated with nonadditive and additive gene expression in early and late stages of seedling development. These results could guide breeding better hybrid crops to meet the growing demand in food and bioenergy.
Brachypodium distachyon and its congeners are found in diverse environments throughout the temperate regions of the world. Brachypodium species also show considerable variation in life history strategy, with species representing short-season annual habits and other species persisting for multiple years. This variation in ecological setting and life history suggests the existence of considerable genetic diversity in adaptation to the abiotic environment, both in constitutive tolerance to local conditions and in the capacity of single genotypes to acclimate to changing or unpredictable conditions. We review the limited but growing empirical literature on the physiology, development, and molecular biology of the interaction of Brachypodium with the abiotic environment. We highlight how these findings inform studies of ecologically and agriculturally-important plant species, and identify areas of future research that will extend the utility of Brachypodium as a model genetic system for understanding plant-environment interactions.
Soil water availability represents one of the most important selective agents for plants in nature and the single greatest abiotic determinant of agricultural productivity, yet the genetic bases of drought acclimation responses remain poorly understood. Here, we developed a systems-genetic approach to characterize quantitative trait loci (QTLs), physiological traits and genes that affect responses to soil moisture deficit in the TSUxKAS mapping population of Arabidopsis thaliana. To determine the effects of candidate genes underlying QTLs, we analyzed gene expression as a covariate within the QTL model in an effort to mechanistically link markers, RNA expression, and the phenotype. This strategy produced ranked lists of candidate genes for several drought-associated traits, including water use efficiency, growth, abscisic acid concentration (ABA), and proline concentration. As a proof of concept, we recovered known causal loci for several QTLs. For other traits, including ABA, we identified novel loci not previously associated with drought. Furthermore, we documented natural variation at two key steps in proline metabolism and demonstrated that the mitochondrial genome differentially affects genomic QTLs to influence proline accumulation. These findings demonstrate that linking genome, transcriptome, and phenotype data holds great promise to extend the utility of genetic mapping, even when QTL effects are modest or complex.
The genetic distance between hybridizing parents affects heterosis; however, the mechanisms for this remain unclear. Here we report that this genetic distance correlates with natural variation and epigenetic regulation of circadian clock-mediated stress responses. In intraspecific hybrids of Arabidopsis thaliana, genome-wide expression of many biotic and abiotic stress-responsive genes is diurnally repressed and this correlates with biomass heterosis and biomass quantitative trait loci. Expression differences of selected stress-responsive genes among diverse ecotypes are predictive of heterosis in their hybrids. Stress-responsive genes are repressed in the hybrids under normal conditions but are induced to mid-parent or higher levels under stress at certain times of the day, potentially balancing the tradeoff between stress responses and growth. Consistent with this hypothesis, repression of two candidate stress-responsive genes increases growth vigour. Our findings may therefore provide new criteria for effectively selecting parents to produce high- or low-yield hybrids.
Genetic and genomic resources have recently been developed for the bioenergy crop switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Despite these advances, little research has been focused on identifying genetic loci involved in natural variation of important bioenergy traits, including biomass. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping is typically used to discover loci that contribute to trait variation. Once identified, QTLs can be used to improve agronomically important traits through marker-assisted selection. In this study, we conducted QTL mapping in Austin, TX, USA, with a full-sib mapping population derived from a cross between tetraploid clones of two major switchgrass cultivars (Alamo-A4 and Kanlow-K5). We observed significant among-genotype variation for the vast majority of growth, morphological, and phenological traits measured on the mapping population. Overall, we discovered 27 significant QTLs across 23 traits. QTLs for biomass production colocalized on linkage group 9b across years, as well as with a major biomass QTL discovered in another recent switchgrass QTL study. The experiment was conducted under a rainout shelter, which allowed us to examine the effects of differential irrigation on trait values. We found very minimal effects of the reduced watering treatment on traits, with no significant effect on biomass production. Overall, the results of our study set the stage for future crop improvement through marker-assisted selection breeding.
Context Expansion of bioenergy production is part of a global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. Dedicated biomass crops will compete with other land uses as most high quality arable land is already used for agriculture, urban development, and biodiversity conservation. Objective First, we explore the trade-offs between converting land enrolled in the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to switchgrass for biofuel production or preserving it for biodiversity. Next, we examine the trade-offs between agriculture, biodiversity, and biofuel across the central and eastern U.S. Methods We compiled measures of biodiversity, agriculture, and biofuel from land cover classifications, species range maps, and mechanistic model output of switchgrass yield. We used a spatially explicit optimization algorithm to analyze the impacts of small-to-large scale biomass production by identifying locations that maximize biofuel produced from switchgrass and minimize negative impacts on biodiversity and agriculture. Results Using CRP land for switchgrass production increases the land area required to meet biomass goals and the species range area altered for birds, amphibians, mammals, and reptiles. When conversion is not limited to CRP, conversion scenarios including biodiversity and agriculture trade-offs require greater than 100 % more area for switchgrass to reach the same production goals. When land conversion scenarios do not include biodiversity, twice the range area for reptiles and amphibians could be altered. Conclusions Land-use trade-offs between biofuel production, agriculture, and biodiversity exist and alter optimum location of land conversion for low-to high biofuel levels. This highlights the need for systematic land-use planning for the future.
Improving environmental adaptation in crops is essential for food security under global change, but phenotyping adaptive traits remains a major bottleneck. If associations between single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) alleles and environment of origin in crop landraces reflect adaptation, then these could be used to predict phenotypic variation for adaptive traits. We tested this proposition in the global food crop Sorghum bicolor, characterizing 1943 georeferenced landraces at 404,627 SNPs and quantifying allelic associations with bioclimatic and soil gradients. Environment explained a substantial portion of SNP variation, independent of geographical distance, and genic SNPs were enriched for environmental associations. Further, environment-associated SNPs predicted genotype-by-environment interactions under experimental drought stress and aluminum toxicity. Our results suggest that genomic signatures of environmental adaptation may be useful for crop improvement, enhancing germplasm identification and marker-assisted selection. Together, genome-environment associations and phenotypic analyses may reveal the basis of environmental adaptation.
Gene regulatory variation is an important driver of the evolution of physiological and developmental responses to the environment. The abscisic acid (ABA) signaling pathway has long been studied as a key component of the cellular response to abiotic stresses in plants. We identify two haplotypes in an Arabidopsis thaliana transcription factor, AREB1, which plays a central role in ABA-mediated response to osmotic stress. These two haplotypes show the sequence signature of long-term maintenance of genetic diversity, suggesting a role for a diversifying selection process such as balancing selection. We find that the two haplotypes, distinguished by a large number of single nucleotide polymorphisms and the presence or absence of four small insertion/deletions in AREB1 intron 1 and exon 2, are at roughly equal frequencies in Arabidopsis, and show high linkage disequilibrium and deep sequence divergence. We use a transgenic approach, along with mRNA Sequencing-based assay of genome-wide expression levels, and find considerable functional divergence between alleles representing the two haplotype groups. Specifically, we find that, under benign soil-water conditions, transgenic lines containing different AREB1 alleles differ in the expression of a large number of genes associated with pathogen response. There are relatively modest gene expression differences between the two transgenic lines under restricted soil water content. Our finding of pathogen-related activity expands the known roles of AREB1 in A. thaliana and reveals the molecular basis of gene-by-environment interaction in a putatively adaptive plant regulatory protein.
Variation is essential to ecological and evolutionary dynamics, but genetic variation of quantitative traits may be concentrated in a limited number of dimensions, constraining ecoevolutionary dynamics. We describe high-dimension variation in natural accessions of the model alga, Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, and test the hypothesis that extensive fitness variation across 30 environments is constrained to a small number of axes. We used high-throughput phenotyping to investigate morphological, fitness, and genotype × environment (G × E) variation in 18 natural C. reinhardtii accessions in 30 environments. The organismal phenotypes of cell cycle, cell size, and phototactic behavior exhibited substantial genetic variation between lines, and we found up to 74-fold fitness variation across accessions and environments. Approximately 47% of the extensive G × E variation is accounted for by the first two principal components (PCs) of the G-matrix corresponding to covariation in metals response, nitrogen availability, or salt and nutrient response. The natural variation of C. reinhardtii accessions supports the hypothesis that, despite abundant genetic variation across single environments, the species' adaptive response should be constrained along few major axes of selection. These results highlight the utility of natural accessions for integrating ecoevolutionary and genetic research.
The process of plant speciation often involves the evolution of divergent ecotypes in response to differences in soil water availability between habitats. While the same set of traits is frequently associated with xeric/mesic ecotype divergence, it is unknown whether those traits evolve independently or if they evolve in tandem as a result of genetic colocalization either by pleiotropy or genetic linkage. The self-fertilizing C4 grass species Panicum hallii includes two major ecotypes found in xeric (var. hallii) or mesic (var. filipes) habitats. We constructed the first linkage map for P. hallii by genotyping a reduced representation genomic library of an F2 population derived from an intercross of var. hallii and filipes. We then evaluated the genetic architecture of divergence between these ecotypes through quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping. Overall, we mapped QTLs for nine morphological traits that are involved in the divergence between the ecotypes. QTLs for five key ecotype-differentiating traits all colocalized to the same region of linkage group five. Leaf physiological traits were less divergent between ecotypes, but we still mapped five physiological QTLs. We also discovered a two-locus Dobzhansky-Muller hybrid incompatibility. Our study suggests that ecotype-differentiating traits may evolve in tandem as a result of genetic colocalization.
Determining the patterns and mechanisms of natural selection in the wild is of fundamental importance to understanding the differentiation of populations and the evolution of new species. However, it is often unknown the extent to which adaptive genetic variation is distributed among ecotypes between distinct habitats versus along large-scale geographic environmental gradients, such as those that track latitude. Classic studies of selection in the wild in switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, tested for adaptation at both of these levels of natural variation. Here we review what these field experiments and modern agronomic field trials have taught us about natural variation and selection at both the ecotype and environmental gradient levels in P. virgatum. With recent genome sequencing efforts in P. virgatum, it is poised to become an excellent system for understanding the adaptation of grassland species across the eastern half of North America. The identification of genetic loci involved in different types of adaptations will help to understand the evolutionary mechanisms of diversification within P. virgatum and provide useful information for the breeding of highyielding cultivars for different ecoregions.
Flowering time and water-use efficiency (WUE) are two ecological traits that are important for plant drought response. To understand the evolutionary significance of natural genetic variation in flowering time, WUE, and WUE plasticity to drought in Arabidopsis thaliana, we addressed the following questions: (1) How are ecophysiological traits genetically correlated within and between different soil moisture environments? (2) Does terminal drought select for early flowering and drought escape? (3) Is WUE plasticity to drought adaptive and/or costly? We measured a suite of ecophysiological and reproductive traits on 234 spring flowering accessions of A. thaliana grown in well-watered and season-ending soil drying treatments, and quantified patterns of genetic variation, correlation, and selection within each treatment. WUE and flowering time were consistently positively genetically correlated. WUE was correlated with WUE plasticity, but the direction changed between treatments. Selection generally favored early flowering and low WUE, with drought favoring earlier flowering significantly more than well-watered conditions. Selection for lower WUE was marginally stronger under drought. There were no net fitness costs of WUE plasticity. WUE plasticity (per se) was globally neutral, but locally favored under drought. Strong genetic correlation between WUE and flowering time may facilitate the evolution of drought escape, or constrain independent evolution of these traits. Terminal drought favored drought escape in these spring flowering accessions of A. thaliana. WUE plasticity may be favored over completely fixed development in environments with periodic drought.
Brachypodium distachyon is small annual grass that has been adopted as a model for the grasses. Its small genome, high-quality reference genome, large germplasm collection, and selfing nature make it an excellent subject for studies of natural variation. We sequenced six divergent lines to identify a comprehensive set of polymorphisms and analyze their distribution and concordance with gene expression. Multiple methods and controls were utilized to identify polymorphisms and validate their quality. mRNA-Seq experiments under control and simulated drought-stress conditions, identified 300 genes with a genotype-dependent treatment response. We showed that large-scale sequence variants had extremely high concordance with altered expression of hundreds of genes, including many with genotype-dependent treatment responses. We generated a deep mRNA-Seq dataset for the most divergent line and created a de novo transcriptome assembly. This led to the discovery of >2400 previously unannotated transcripts and hundreds of genes not present in the reference genome. We built a public database for visualization and investigation of sequence variants among these widely used inbred lines.
Background: In light of the changes in precipitation and soil water availability expected with climate change, understanding the mechanisms underlying plant responses to water deficit is essential. Toward that end we have conducted an integrative analysis of responses to drought stress in the perennial C4 grass and biofuel crop, Panicum virgatum (switchgrass). Responses to soil drying and re-watering were measured at transcriptional, physiological, and metabolomic levels. To assess the interaction of soil moisture with diel light: dark cycles, we profiled gene expression in drought and control treatments under pre-dawn and mid-day conditions.
Results: Soil drying resulted in reduced leaf water potential, gas exchange, and chlorophyll fluorescence along with differential expression of a large fraction of the transcriptome (37%). Many transcripts responded differently depending on time of day (e.g. up-regulation pre-dawn and down-regulation mid-day). Genes associated with C4 photosynthesis were down-regulated during drought, while C4 metabolic intermediates accumulated. Rapid changes in gene expression were observed during recovery from drought, along with increased water use efficiency and chlorophyll fluorescence.
Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that drought responsive gene expression depends strongly on time of day and that gene expression is extensively modified during the first few hours of drought recovery. Analysis of covariation in gene expression, metabolite abundance, and physiology among plants revealed non-linear relationships that suggest critical thresholds in drought stress responses. Future studies may benefit from evaluating these thresholds among diverse accessions of switchgrass and other C4 grasses.