Since Darwin, there has been a long and arduous struggle to understand the source and maintenance of natural genetic variation and its relationship to phenotype. The reason that this task is so difficult is that it requires integration of detailed, and as yet incomplete, knowledge from several biological disciplines, including evolutionary, population, and developmental genetics. In this 'post-genomic' era, it is relatively easy to identify differences in the DNA sequence between individuals. However, the task remains to delineate how this abundant genetic diversity actually contributes to phenotypic diversity. This necessitates tackling the problem of hidden genetic variation. Genetic polymorphisms can be conditionally cryptic, but have the potential to contribute to phenotypic variation in particular genetic backgrounds or under specific environmental conditions. A recent paper by Lauter and Doebley highlights the contribution of hidden genetic variation to traits characterizing the morphological evolution of modern maize from its wild grass-like progenitor teosinte.1 This work is the first to demonstrate hidden variance for selected (agronomically 'adaptive') traits in a well-characterized model for morphological evolution.
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