The limits of selection during maize domestication

Nature. 1999 Mar 18;398(6724):236-9. doi: 10.1038/18435.


The domestication of all major crop plants occurred during a brief period in human history about 10,000 years ago. During this time, ancient agriculturalists selected seed of preferred forms and culled out seed of undesirable types to produce each subsequent generation. Consequently, favoured alleles at genes controlling traits of interest increased in frequency, ultimately reaching fixation. When selection is strong, domestication has the potential to drastically reduce genetic diversity in a crop. To understand the impact of selection during maize domestication, we examined nucleotide polymorphism in teosinte branched1, a gene involved in maize evolution. Here we show that the effects of selection were limited to the gene's regulatory region and cannot be detected in the protein-coding region. Although selection was apparently strong, high rates of recombination and a prolonged domestication period probably limited its effects. Our results help to explain why maize is such a variable crop. They also suggest that maize domestication required hundreds of years, and confirm previous evidence that maize was domesticated from Balsas teosinte of southwestern Mexico.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Alleles
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genes, Plant
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Proteins / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Zea mays / classification
  • Zea mays / genetics*


  • Plant Proteins
  • TB1 protein, Zea mays

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AF131649
  • GENBANK/AF131650
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  • GENBANK/AF131666
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  • GENBANK/AF131670
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  • GENBANK/AF131673
  • GENBANK/AF131674
  • GENBANK/AF131675
  • GENBANK/AF131676
  • GENBANK/AF131677
  • GENBANK/AF131678