Gradual domestication of root traits in the earliest maize from Tehuacan

Ivan Lopez-Valdivia, Alden C. Perkins, Hannah M. Schneider, Miguel Vallebueno-Estrada, James D. Burridge, Eduardo Gonzalez-Orozco, Aurora Montufar, Rafael Montiel, Jonathan P. Lynch, Jean Philippe Vielle-Calzada

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6 Scopus citations


Efforts to understand the phenotypic transition that gave rise to maize from teosinte have mainly focused on the analysis of aerial organs, with little insights into possible domestication traits affecting the root system. Archeological excavations in San Marcos cave (Tehuacan, Mexico) yielded two well-preserved 5,300 to 4,970 calibrated y B.P. specimens (SM3 and SM11) corresponding to root stalks composed of at least five nodes with multiple nodal roots and, in case, a complete embryonic root system. To characterize in detail their architecture and anatomy, we used laser ablation tomography to reconstruct a three-dimensional segment of their nodal roots and a scutellar node, revealing exquisite preservation of the inner tissue and cell organization and providing reliable morphometric parameters for cellular characteristics of the stele and cortex. Whereas SM3 showed multiple cortical sclerenchyma typical of extant maize, the scutellar node of the SM11 embryonic root system completely lacked seminal roots, an attribute found in extant teosinte and in two specific maize mutants: root with undetectable meristem1 (rum1) and rootless concerning crown and seminal roots (rtcs). Ancient DNA sequences of SM10—a third San Marcos specimen of equivalent age to SM3 and SM11—revealed the presence of mutations in the transcribed sequence of both genes, offering the possibility for some of these mutations to be involved in the lack of seminal roots of the ancient specimens. Our results indicate that the root system of the earliest maize from Tehuacan resembled teosinte in traits important for maize drought adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2110245119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
StatePublished - Apr 26 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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