Entering the second century of maize quantitative genetics

Heredity (Edinb). 2014 Jan;112(1):30-8. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2013.6. Epub 2013 Mar 6.


Maize is the most widely grown cereal in the world. In addition to its role in global agriculture, it has also long served as a model organism for genetic research. Maize stands at a genetic crossroads, as it has access to all the tools available for plant genetics but exhibits a genetic architecture more similar to other outcrossing organisms than to self-pollinating crops and model plants. In this review, we summarize recent advances in maize genetics, including the development of powerful populations for genetic mapping and genome-wide association studies (GWAS), and the insights these studies yield on the mechanisms underlying complex maize traits. Most maize traits are controlled by a large number of genes, and linkage analysis of several traits implicates a 'common gene, rare allele' model of genetic variation where some genes have many individually rare alleles contributing. Most natural alleles exhibit small effect sizes with little-to-no detectable pleiotropy or epistasis. Additionally, many of these genes are locked away in low-recombination regions that encourage the formation of multi-gene blocks that may underlie maize's strong heterotic effect. Domestication left strong marks on the maize genome, and some of the differences in trait architectures may be due to different selective pressures over time. Overall, maize's advantages as a model system make it highly desirable for studying the genetics of outcrossing species, and results from it can provide insight into other such species, including humans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chromosome Mapping
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Plant
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Hybrid Vigor / genetics
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Zea mays / genetics*