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Genome duplication encourages rapid adaptation of plants
Date:5/3/2011

ever, it was unclear if the change in chromosome number, per se, was responsible. Over time, natural hexaploid populations could have accumulated differences in DNA sequence that improved their performance in the dry habitats where they now reside.

To test that idea, Ramsey took first-generation, mutant hexaploid yarrow that were screened from a tetraploid population, and transplanted them to the sandy habitat in the south. Ramsey compared the performance of the transplanted yarrows and found that the hexaploid mutants had a 70 percent survival advantage over their tetraploid siblings. Because the tetraploid and hexaploid plants had a shared genetic background, the difference of survivorship was directly attributable to the number of chromosome sets rather than the DNA sequences contained on the chromosomes.

Ramsey offers two theories for the greater survivorship of the hexaploid plants. It may be that DNA content alters the size and shape of the cells regulating the opening and closing of small pores on the leaf surface. As a result, the rate at which water passes through yarrow leaves may be reduced by an increase in chromosome set number (ploidy). Another possibility, according to Ramsey, is that the addition of chromosome sets masks the effects of plant deleterious genes, similar to those that cause cystic fibrosis and other genetic diseases in humans.

"Sometimes the mechanism of adaptation isn't a difference in genes," said Ramsey, "it's the number of chromosomes." While scientists previously believed polyploidy played a role in creating gene familiesgroups of genes with related functionsthey were uncertain whether chromosome duplication itself had adaptive value.

Now, Ramsey says scientists "should pay more attention to chromosome number, not only as an evolutionary mechanism, but as a form of genetic variation to preserve rare and endangered plants."


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Contact: Peter Iglinski
peter.iglinski@rochester.edu
585-273-4726
University of Rochester
Source:Eurekalert

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