The genomic signature of crop-wild introgression in maize

PLoS Genet. 2013 May;9(5):e1003477. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003477. Epub 2013 May 9.


The evolutionary significance of hybridization and subsequent introgression has long been appreciated, but evaluation of the genome-wide effects of these phenomena has only recently become possible. Crop-wild study systems represent ideal opportunities to examine evolution through hybridization. For example, maize and the conspecific wild teosinte Zea mays ssp. mexicana (hereafter, mexicana) are known to hybridize in the fields of highland Mexico. Despite widespread evidence of gene flow, maize and mexicana maintain distinct morphologies and have done so in sympatry for thousands of years. Neither the genomic extent nor the evolutionary importance of introgression between these taxa is understood. In this study we assessed patterns of genome-wide introgression based on 39,029 single nucleotide polymorphisms genotyped in 189 individuals from nine sympatric maize-mexicana populations and reference allopatric populations. While portions of the maize and mexicana genomes appeared resistant to introgression (notably near known cross-incompatibility and domestication loci), we detected widespread evidence for introgression in both directions of gene flow. Through further characterization of these genomic regions and preliminary growth chamber experiments, we found evidence suggestive of the incorporation of adaptive mexicana alleles into maize during its expansion to the highlands of central Mexico. In contrast, very little evidence was found for adaptive introgression from maize to mexicana. The methods we have applied here can be replicated widely, and such analyses have the potential to greatly inform our understanding of evolution through introgressive hybridization. Crop species, due to their exceptional genomic resources and frequent histories of spread into sympatry with relatives, should be particularly influential in these studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Gene Flow*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Genome, Plant
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Mexico
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Species Specificity
  • Sympatry / genetics
  • Zea mays / genetics*

Grant support

PL and NCE acknowledge support from UC MEXUS. TP received support from the Academy of Finland. This work was supported by US–NSF grant IOS-0922703 and USDA–National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant 2009-01864. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.