Genetic Properties of the Maize Nested Association Mapping Population

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Science  07 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5941, pp. 737-740
DOI: 10.1126/science.1174320

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Codifying Maize Modifications

Maize, one of our most important crop species, has been the target of genetic investigation and experimentation for more than 100 years. Crossing two inbred lines tends to result in “better” offspring, in a process known as heterosis. Attempts to map the genetic loci that control traits important for farming have been made, but few have been successful (see the Perspective by Mackay). Buckler et al. (p. 714) and McMullen et al. (p. 737) produced a genomic map of maize that relates recombination to genome structure. Even tremendous adaptations in very diverse species were produced by numerous, small additive steps. Differences in flowering time in maize among inbred lines were not caused by a few genes with large effects, but by the cumulative effects of numerous quantitative trait loci—each of which has only a small impact on the trait.


Maize genetic diversity has been used to understand the molecular basis of phenotypic variation and to improve agricultural efficiency and sustainability. We crossed 25 diverse inbred maize lines to the B73 reference line, capturing a total of 136,000 recombination events. Variation for recombination frequencies was observed among families, influenced by local (cis) genetic variation. We identified evidence for numerous minor single-locus effects but little two-locus linkage disequilibrium or segregation distortion, which indicated a limited role for genes with large effects and epistatic interactions on fitness. We observed excess residual heterozygosity in pericentromeric regions, which suggested that selection in inbred lines has been less efficient in these regions because of reduced recombination frequency. This implies that pericentromeric regions may contribute disproportionally to heterosis.

  • * Present address: International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), kilometer 45, Carretera Mex-Veracruz, El Batan, Texcoco, Mexico.

  • Present address: Monsanto, Leesburg, GA 31763, USA.

  • Present address: Fondation CHIBAS, 30 Rue Pacot, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

  • Present address: Delta Pine/Monsanto, Post Office Box 194, Scott, MS 38772, USA.

  • || To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: mcmullenm{at} (M.D.M.); sk20{at} (S.K.); james_holland{at} (J.B.H.); esb33{at} (E.S.B.)

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