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Genetics. 2002 Jan;160(1):333-42.

Genetic variation for phenotypically invariant traits detected in teosinte: implications for the evolution of novel forms.

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  • 1Department of Plant Biology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108, USA.


How new discrete states of morphological traits evolve is poorly understood. One possibility is that single-gene changes underlie the evolution of new discrete character states and that evolution is dependent on the occurrence of new single-gene mutations. Another possibility is that multiple-gene changes are required to elevate an individual or population above a threshold required to produce the new character state. A prediction of the latter model is that genetic variation for the traits should exist in natural populations in the absence of phenotypic variation. To test this idea, we studied traits that are phenotypically invariant within teosinte and for which teosinte is discretely different from its near relative, maize. By employing a QTL mapping strategy to analyze the progeny of a testcross between an F(1) of two teosintes and a maize inbred line, we identified cryptic genetic variation in teosinte for traits that are invariant in teosinte. We argue that such cryptic genetic variation can contribute to the evolution of novelty when reconfigured to exceed the threshold necessary for phenotypic expression or by acting to modify or stabilize the effects of major mutations.

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