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Hybrid decay: a transgenerational epigenetic decline in vigor and viability triggered in backcross populations of teosinte with maize

By Wei Xue, Sarah N Anderson, Xufeng Wang, Liyan Yang, Peter Alexander Crisp, Qing Li, Jaclyn M. Noshay, Patrice S. Albert, James A. Birchler, Paul Bilinski, Michelle C Stitzer, Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, Sherry A. Flint-Garcia, Xuemei Chen, Nathan Springer, J.F. Doebley

Posted 26 Mar 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/588715 (published DOI: 10.1534/genetics.119.302378)

In the course of generating populations of maize with teosinte chromosomal introgressions, an unusual sickly plant phenotype was noted in individuals from crosses with two teosinte accessions collected near Valle de Bravo, Mexico. The plants of these Bravo teosinte accessions appear phenotypically normal themselves and the F1 plants appear similar to typical maize x teosinte F1s. However, upon backcrossing to maize, the BC1 and subsequent generations display a number of detrimental characteristics including shorter stature, reduced seed set and abnormal floral structures. This phenomenon is observed in all BC individuals and there is no chromosomal segment linked to the sickly plant phenotype in advanced backcross generations. Once the sickly phenotype appears in a lineage, normal plants are never again recovered by continued backcrossing to the normal maize parent. Whole-genome shotgun sequencing reveals a small number of genomic sequences, some with homology to transposable elements, that have increased in copy number in the backcross populations. Transcriptome analysis of seedlings, which do not have striking phenotypic abnormalities, identified segments of 18 maize genes that exhibit increased expression in sickly plants. A de novo assembly of transcripts present in plants exhibiting the sickly phenotype identified a set of 59 up-regulated novel transcripts. These transcripts include some examples with sequence similarity to transposable elements and other sequences present in the recurrent maize parent (W22) genome as well as novel sequences not present in the W22 genome. Genome-wide profiles of gene expression, DNA methylation and sRNAs are similar between sickly plants and normal controls, although a few up-regulated transcripts and transposable elements are associated with altered sRNA or methylation profiles. This study documents hybrid incompatibility and genome instability triggered by the backcrossing of Bravo teosinte with maize. We name this phenomenon "hybrid decay" and present ideas on the mechanism that may underlie it.

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