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Seedling root system adaptation to water availability during maize domestication and global expansion

Peng Yu, Chunhui Li, Meng Li, Xiaoming He, Danning Wang, Hongjie Li, Caroline Marcon, Yu Li, Sergio Perez-Limón, Xinping Chen, Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Robert Koller, Ralf Metzner, Dagmar van Dusschoten, Daniel Pflugfelder, Ljudmilla Borisjuk, Iaroslav Plutenko, Audrey Mahon, Marcio F. R. Resende Jr., Silvio Salvi, Asegidew Akale, Mohanned Abdalla, Mutez Ali Ahmed, Felix Maximilian Bauer, Andrea Schnepf, Guillaume Lobet, Adrien Heymans, Kiran Suresh, Lukas Schreiber, Chloee M. McLaughlin, Chunjian Li, Manfred Mayer, Chris-Carolin Schön, Vivian Bernau, Nicolaus von Wirén, Ruairidh J. H. Sawers, Tianyu Wang, Frank Hochholdinger.

Nature Genetics; 2024; IF 30.80



The maize root system has been reshaped by indirect selection during global adaptation to new agricultural environments. In this study, we characterized the root systems of more than 9,000 global maize accessions and its wild relatives, defining the geographical signature and genomic basis of variation in seminal root number. We demonstrate that seminal root number has increased during maize domestication followed by a decrease in response to limited water availability in locally adapted varieties. By combining environmental and phenotypic association analyses with linkage mapping, we identified genes linking environmental variation and seminal root number. Functional characterization of the transcription factor ZmHb77 and in silico root modeling provides evidence that reshaping root system architecture by reducing the number of seminal roots and promoting lateral root density is beneficial for the resilience of maize seedlings to drought.