Natural variation in an ABC transporter gene associated with seed size evolution in tomato species

PLoS Genet. 2009 Jan;5(1):e1000347. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000347. Epub 2009 Jan 23.


Seed size is a key determinant of evolutionary fitness in plants and is a trait that often undergoes tremendous changes during crop domestication. Seed size is most often quantitatively inherited, and it has been shown that Sw4.1 is one of the most significant quantitative trait loci (QTLs) underlying the evolution of seed size in the genus Solanum-especially in species related to the cultivated tomato. Using a combination of genetic, developmental, molecular, and transgenic techniques, we have pinpointed the cause of the Sw4.1 QTL to a gene encoding an ABC transporter gene. This gene exerts its control on seed size, not through the maternal plant, but rather via gene expression in the developing zygote. Phenotypic effects of allelic variation at Sw4.1 are manifested early in seed development at stages corresponding to the rapid deposition of starch and lipids into the endospermic cells. Through synteny, we have identified the Arabidopsis Sw4.1 ortholog. Mutagenesis has revealed that this ortholog is associated with seed length variation and fatty acid deposition in seeds, raising the possibility that the ABC transporter may modulate seed size variation in other species. Transcription studies show that the ABC transporter gene is expressed not only in seeds, but also in other tissues (leaves and roots) and, thus, may perform functions in parts of the plants other than developing seeds. Cloning and characterization of the Sw4.1 QTL gives new insight into how plants change seed during evolution and may open future opportunities for modulating seed size in crop plants for human purposes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / genetics*
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / metabolism*
  • Alleles
  • Arabidopsis / genetics
  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genetic Variation
  • Lycopersicon esculentum / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Quantitative Trait Loci
  • Seeds / genetics*
  • Seeds / growth & development


  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Genetic Markers