Drought adaptation in Arabidopsis thaliana by extensive genetic loss-of-function

Elife. 2018 Dec 6;7:e41038. doi: 10.7554/eLife.41038.


Interdisciplinary syntheses are needed to scale up discovery of the environmental drivers and molecular basis of adaptation in nature. Here we integrated novel approaches using whole genome sequences, satellite remote sensing, and transgenic experiments to study natural loss-of-function alleles associated with drought histories in wild Arabidopsis thaliana. The genes we identified exhibit population genetic signatures of parallel molecular evolution, selection for loss-of-function, and shared associations with flowering time phenotypes in directions consistent with longstanding adaptive hypotheses seven times more often than expected by chance. We then confirmed predicted phenotypes experimentally in transgenic knockout lines. These findings reveal the importance of drought timing to explain the evolution of alternative drought tolerance strategies and further challenge popular assumptions about the adaptive value of genetic loss-of-function in nature. These results also motivate improved species-wide sequencing efforts to better identify loss-of-function variants and inspire new opportunities for engineering climate resilience in crops.

Keywords: A. thaliana; climate adaptation; drought tolerance; evolutionary biology; functional genomics; gene editing; genetics; genomics; molecular evolution; remote sensing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Droughts*
  • Flowers / genetics
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Loss of Function Mutation*
  • Phenotype
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Time Factors

Grant support

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.