Determination of the genetic basis of seed oil composition and melting point—adaptive quantitative traits—and their fitness effects in Arabidopsis thaliana
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Evidence indicates seed oil melting point is likely an adaptive quantitative trait in many flowering plant species. An adaptive hypothesis suggests selection has changed the melting point of seed oils to covary with germination temperatures because of a trade-off between total energy stores and the rate of energy acquisition during germination under competition. The predicted differences in relative fitness under different temperatures have not yet been tested and little is known about the genetic basis of differences in oil composition. I used Arabidopsis thaliana to: (1) assess the fitness consequences of high and low melting point seeds germinating at different temperatures, (2) assess what genes underlie natural variation in seed oil composition, and (3) consider how these genes may be used to create oils with particular characteristics. To assess the effects of seed oil melting point on timing of seedling emergence and fitness, I competed high and low melting point lines of A. thaliana under cold and warm temperatures. Emergence timing between these lines was not significantly different at either temperature, which comported with warm temperature predictions but not cold temperature predictions. Under all conditions, plants competing against high melting point lines had lower fitness relative to those against low melting point lines, which matched expectations for undifferentiated emergence times. To assess the genetic basis of naturally occurring variation in seed oil melting point, the seed oil compositions of 391 accessions of A. thaliana were used in a genome-wide association study. Twelve genes were tightly linked with SNPs significantly associated with seed oil melting point variation. Seven encoded lipid synthesis enzymes or regulatory products. The remaining 5 encoded products with no clear relation to seed oil melting point. Results suggest selection can alter quantitative trait variation in response to local conditions through a small set of genes. 268 seed-expressed, candidate genes were linked to 103 SNPs associated with A. thaliana seed oil fatty acids. Eight genes were involved in lipid metabolism, and thirty-four encoded regulatory products. I discuss how knowledge of these genes can be used to breed and engineer desirable oil compositions for industry and nutrition.