Gene regulatory effects of a large chromosomal inversion in highland maize

by Taylor Crow, James Ta, Saghi Nojoomi, M. Rocío Aguilar-Rangel, Jorge Vladimir Torres Rodríguez, Daniel Gates, Rubén Rellán-Álvarez, Ruairidh Sawers, Daniel Runcie

Chromosomal inversions play an important role in local adaptation. Inversions can capture multiple locally adaptive functional variants in a linked block by repressing recombination. However, this recombination suppression makes it difficult to identify the genetic mechanisms underlying an inversion’s role in adaptation. In this study, we used large-scale transcriptomic data to dissect the functional importance of a 13 Mb inversion locus (Inv4m) found almost exclusively in highland populations of maize (Zea mays ssp. mays). Inv4m was introgressed into highland maize from the wild relative Zea mays ssp. mexicana, also present in the highlands of Mexico, and is thought to be important for the adaptation of these populations to cultivation in highland environments. However, the specific genetic variants and traits that underlie this adaptation are not known. We created two families segregating for the standard and inverted haplotypes of Inv4m in a common genetic background and measured gene expression effects associated with the inversion across 9 tissues in two experimental conditions. With these data, we quantified both the global transcriptomic effects of the highland Inv4m haplotype, and the local cis-regulatory variation present within the locus. We found diverse physiological effects of Inv4m across the 9 tissues, including a strong effect on the expression of genes involved in photosynthesis and chloroplast physiology. Although we could not confidently identify the causal alleles within Inv4m, this research accelerates progress towards understanding this inversion and will guide future research on these important genomic features.

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