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Annu Rev Plant Biol. 2013;64:71-88. doi: 10.1146/annurev-arplant-042110-103827. Epub 2013 Feb 6.

Progress toward understanding heterosis in crop plants.

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Center for Plant Genomics and Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011-3650, USA.


Although heterosis, or hybrid vigor, is widely exploited in agriculture, a complete description of its molecular underpinnings has remained elusive despite extensive investigation. It appears that there is not a single, simple explanation for heterosis. Instead, it is likely that heterosis arises in crosses between genetically distinct individuals as a result of a diversity of mechanisms. Heterosis generally results from the action of multiple loci, and different loci affect heterosis for different traits and in different hybrids. Hence, multigene models are likely to prove most informative for understanding heterosis. Complementation of allelic variation, as well as complementation of variation in gene content and gene expression patterns, is likely to be an important contributor to heterosis. Epigenetic variation has the potential to interact in hybrid genotypes via novel mechanisms. Several other intriguing hypotheses are also under investigation. In crops, heterosis must be considered within the context of the genomic impacts of prior selection for agronomic traits.

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