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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Sep;1206:56-79. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05703.x.

Pleiotropy, plasticity, and the evolution of plant abiotic stress tolerance.

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Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA.


Progress in understanding the mechanisms of adaptive plant abiotic stress response has historically come from two separate fields. Molecular biologists employ mutagenic screens, experimental manipulations, and controlled stress treatment to identify genes that, when perturbed, have fairly large effects on phenotype. By contrast, quantitative and evolutionary geneticists generally study naturally occurring variants to inform multigenic models of trait architecture in an effort to predict, for example, the evolutionary response to selection. We discuss five emerging themes from the molecular study of osmotic stress response: the multigenic nature of adaptive response, the modular organization of response to specific cues, the pleiotropic effects of key signaling proteins, the integration of many environmental signals, and the abundant cross-talk between signaling pathways. We argue that these concepts can be incorporated into existing models of trait evolution and provide examples of what may constitute the molecular basis of plasticity and evolvability of abiotic stress response. We conclude by considering future directions in the study of the functional molecular evolution of abiotic stress response that may facilitate new discoveries in molecular biology, evolutionary studies, and plant breeding.

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