From Teosinte to Maize: The Catastrophic Sexual Transmutation

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Science  25 Nov 1983:
Vol. 222, Issue 4626, pp. 886-894
DOI: 10.1126/science.222.4626.886


An alternative to the theory that the ear of maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) evolved from a slender female ear of a Mexican annual teosinte holds that it was derived from the central spike of a male teosinte inflorescence (tassel) which terminates the primary lateral branches. This alternative hypothesis is more consistent with morphology and explains the anomalous lack of significant genetic and biochemical differences between these taxa. Maize, the only cereal with unisexual inflorescences, evolved through a sudden epigenetic sexual transmutation involving condensation of primary branches, which brought their tassels into the zone of female expression, leading to strong apical dominance and a catastrophic shift in nutrient allocation. Initially, this quantum change may have involved no new mutations, but rather genetic assimilation under human selection of an abnormality, perhaps environmentally triggered.