Genomic estimation of complex traits reveals ancient maize adaptation to temperate North America

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Science  04 Aug 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6350, pp. 512-515
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam9425

Estimating temperate adaptation in ancient maize

Maize as a staple food crop in temperate North America required adaptation to a shorter growing season. On its first introduction in the southwestern United States ∼4000 years ago, maize was extensively grown in the lowlands. Cultivation in the temperate uplands did not occur for another 2000 years. Swarts et al. used ancient DNA data from 1900-year-old maize cobs found in a temperate cave in the southwestern United States and mapped the ancient flowering phenotype. The ancient maize samples were marginally adapted to temperate regions as a result of selection on standing variation.

Science, this issue p. 512


By 4000 years ago, people had introduced maize to the southwestern United States; full agriculture was established quickly in the lowland deserts but delayed in the temperate highlands for 2000 years. We test if the earliest upland maize was adapted for early flowering, a characteristic of modern temperate maize. We sequenced fifteen 1900-year-old maize cobs from Turkey Pen Shelter in the temperate Southwest. Indirectly validated genomic models predicted that Turkey Pen maize was marginally adapted with respect to flowering, as well as short, tillering, and segregating for yellow kernel color. Temperate adaptation drove modern population differentiation and was selected in situ from ancient standing variation. Validated prediction of polygenic traits improves our understanding of ancient phenotypes and the dynamics of environmental adaptation.

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