Cytonuclear interactions affect adaptive traits of the annual plant Arabidopsis thaliana in the field

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Mar 29;113(13):3687-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1520687113. Epub 2016 Mar 15.


Although the contribution of cytonuclear interactions to plant fitness variation is relatively well documented at the interspecific level, the prevalence of cytonuclear interactions at the intraspecific level remains poorly investigated. In this study, we set up a field experiment to explore the range of effects that cytonuclear interactions have on fitness-related traits in Arabidopsis thaliana To do so, we created a unique series of 56 cytolines resulting from cytoplasmic substitutions among eight natural accessions reflecting within-species genetic diversity. An assessment of these cytolines and their parental lines scored for 28 adaptive whole-organism phenotypes showed that a large proportion of phenotypic traits (23 of 28) were affected by cytonuclear interactions. The effects of these interactions varied from slight but frequent across cytolines to strong in some specific parental pairs. Two parental pairs accounted for half of the significant pairwise interactions. In one parental pair, Ct-1/Sha, we observed symmetrical phenotypic responses between the two nuclear backgrounds when combined with specific cytoplasms, suggesting nuclear differentiation at loci involved in cytonuclear epistasis. In contrast, asymmetrical phenotypic responses were observed in another parental pair, Cvi-0/Sha. In the Cvi-0 nuclear background, fecundity and phenology-related traits were strongly affected by the Sha cytoplasm, leading to a modified reproductive strategy without penalizing total seed production. These results indicate that natural variation in cytoplasmic and nuclear genomes interact to shape integrative traits that contribute to adaptation, thereby suggesting that cytonuclear interactions can play a major role in the evolutionary dynamics ofA. thaliana.

Keywords: cytolines; cytoplasm × nucleus interactions; fitness-related traits; organelles; plant adaptation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • Cell Nucleus / physiology
  • Cytoplasm / genetics
  • Cytoplasm / physiology
  • Epistasis, Genetic
  • Genetic Fitness
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genome, Plant
  • Phenotype