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Molecular Parallelism Underlies Convergent Highland Adaptation of Maize Landraces.

Abstract

Convergent phenotypic evolution provides some of the strongest evidence for adaptation. However, the extent to which recurrent phenotypic adaptation has arisen via parallelism at the molecular level remains unresolved, as does the evolutionary origin of alleles underlying such adaptation. Here, we investigate genetic mechanisms of convergent highland adaptation in maize landrace populations and evaluate the genetic sources of recurrently selected alleles. Population branch excess statistics reveal substantial evidence of parallel adaptation at the level of individual single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNPs), genes, and pathways in four independent highland maize populations. The majority of convergently selected SNPs originated via migration from a single population, most likely in the Mesoamerican highlands, while standing variation introduced by ancient gene flow was also a contributor. Polygenic adaptation analyses of quantitative traits reveal that alleles affecting flowering time are significantly associated with elevation, indicating the flowering time pathway was targeted by highland adaptation. In addition, repeatedly selected genes were significantly enriched in the flowering time pathway, indicating their significance in adapting to highland conditions. Overall, our study system represents a promising model to study convergent evolution in plants with potential applications to crop adaptation across environmental gradients.

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