The genetics of maize evolution

Annu Rev Genet. 2004;38:37-59. doi: 10.1146/annurev.genet.38.072902.092425.


Maize and its closest wild relatives, the teosintes, differ strikingly in the morphology of their female inflorescences or ears. Despite their divergent morphologies, several studies indicate that some varieties of teosinte are cytologically indistinguishable from maize and capable of forming fully fertile hybrids with maize. Molecular analyses identified one form of teosinte (Zea mays ssp. parviglumis) as the progenitor of maize. Analyses of the inheritance of the morphological traits that distinguish maize and teosinte indicates that they are under the control of multiple genes and exhibit quantitative inheritance. Nevertheless, these analyses have also identified a few loci of large effect that appear to represent key innovations during maize domestication. Remaining challenges are to identify additional major and minor effect genes, the polymorphisms within these genes that control the phenotypes, and how the combination of the individual and epistatic effects of these genes transformed teosinte into maize.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Chromosomes, Plant
  • Epistasis, Genetic
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genes, Plant*
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Components, Aerial / genetics
  • Plant Proteins / genetics
  • Quantitative Trait Loci
  • Zea mays / genetics*
  • Zea mays / growth & development


  • Plant Proteins
  • TB1 protein, Zea mays