Plant Science

Predicting the Next Generation

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Science  14 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6172, pp. 710-711
DOI: 10.1126/science.343.6172.710-d

Heterosis, in which the hybrid offspring perform better than the inbred parental lines, is a valuable but unpredictable aspect of maize cultivation. Traits that are useful in agricultural settings are often the outcome of complex genetic interactions, with many genes influencing each other and developmental outcomes in small ways. As a result, the genes controlling useful traits are often unknown. Nonetheless, crop breeders use what information they can find to generate more productive maize lines. Feher et al. have now used metabolites, the downstream output of complex gene suites, to predict heterosis. Looking at the early development of the seedling's primary root (a well-functioning root gets the plant off to a good start) as their end point, the authors compared parental metabolite profiles to those of the hybrid offspring. A subset of the metabolites was identified as predictive of hybrid outcomes not only for that same metabolite but also for several other metabolites. The most effective predictions of hybrid root biomass were achieved by looking at only 5, but any 5, of the most predictive 10 to 20 metabolites.

PLOS One 9, e85435 (2014).

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