The molecular basis of local adaptation in Arabidopsis thaliana

Lead Research Organisation: John Innes Centre
Department Name: Contracts Office


One of the most important challenges facing biology today is making sense of genetic variation. Understanding how genotypic variation translates into phenotypic variation and how it is structured in populations is fundamental to our understanding of evolution and has enormous practical implications for human health, agriculture and conservation. The long-term objective of this project is to increase our understanding of the molecular genetic basis for adaptive variation by studying flowering time in Arabidopsis thaliana. The focus is on the flowering response to cold temperatures (vernalization), one of the major mechanisms plants use to ensure that they flower at the right time, during the right season. The project seeks to describe the genetic architecture underlying variation for this trait, and will identify, at the molecular level, the major genes and alleles involved. The adaptive significance of the identified polymorphisms will be determined in field trials. The aims of the project are to map the genes responsible for variation between plants collected from different locations. This will be done by a combination of traditional linkage mapping and whole genome association mapping. A functional molecular analysis will be carried out on the alleles and loci identified.
This is a collaborative project between Magnus Nordborg ( University of Southern California), Joy Bergelson (University of Chicago) and Caroline Dean ( John Innes Centre).
Description This grant was complemented by a Marie Curie training grant funded Dr Vincent Coustham who dissected the molecular basis of variation in Arabidopsis thaliana vernalization. He showed just a few polymorphisms within the gene influenced the chromatin silencing mechanism. Altogether we have been able to link molecular changes with adaptive phenotypes and population genetic consequences.
Exploitation Route They will provide important information for other researchers exploring adaptation
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description This NIH-funded grant brought together researchers from four countries USA, (Bergelson), Nordborg (Austria), Dean (UK), Holm (Sweden). It combined very different expertise - ecology, population genetics, molecular biology and field-based experimentation. The goal was to analyse the molecular basis of adaptation. This work spawned the ideas that were further developed in the successful ERC Advanced Investigator application by C Dean (MEXTIM) that started in March 2014. It also led to discussions that resulted in the Earth and Life Systems Alliance - a major new research initiative between John Innes Centre and University of East Anglia. This alliance is taking shape and has precipitated discussions at a high level between BBSRC and NERC as to how to bridge the cap between ecology and molecular biology. Caroline Dean presented her work to the NERC Council at their retreat in Swindon in March 2014.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment