Natural variation in Brachypodium links vernalization and flowering time loci as major flowering determinants

Jan Bettgenhaeuser, Fiona M. K. Corke, Magdalena Opanowicz, Porntip Green, Inmaculada Hernandez-Pinzon, John H. Doonan, Matthew J. Moscou

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The domestication of plants is underscored by the selection of agriculturally favorable developmental traits, including flowering time, which resulted in the creation of varieties with altered growth habits. Research into the pathways underlying these growth habits in cereals has highlighted the role of three main flowering regulators: VRN1, VRN2, and FT. Previous reverse genetic studies suggested that the roles of VRN1 and FT are conserved in Brachypodium distachyon, yet identified considerable ambiguity surrounding the role of VRN2. To investigate the natural diversity governing flowering time pathways in a non-domesticated grass, the reference B. distachyon accession Bd21 was crossed with the vernalization-dependent accession ABR6. Resequencing of ABR6 allowed the creation of a SNP-based genetic map at the F4 stage of the mapping population. Flowering time was evaluated in F4:5 families in five environmental conditions and three major loci were found to govern flowering time. Interestingly, two of these loci colocalize with the B. distachyon homologs of the major flowering pathway genes VRN2 and FT, whereas no linkage was observed at VRN1. Characterization of these candidates identified sequence and expression variation between the two parental genotypes, which may explain the contrasting growth habits. However, the identification of additional QTLs suggests that greater complexity underlies flowering time in this non-domesticated system. Studying the interaction of these regulators in B. distachyon provides insights into the evolutionary context of flowering time regulation in the Poaeceae, as well as elucidates the way humans have utilized the natural variation present in grasses to create modern temperate cereals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-268
Number of pages13
JournalPlant Physiology
Issue number1
Early online date20 Sep 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

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