ZmCCT and the genetic basis of day-length adaptation underlying the postdomestication spread of maize

Hsiao Yi Hung, Laura M. Shannon, Feng Tian, Peter J. Bradbury, Charles Chen, Sherry A. Flint-Garcia, Michael D. McMullen, Doreen Ware, Edward S. Buckler, John F. Doebley, James B. Holland

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Teosinte, the progenitor of maize, is restricted to tropical environments in Mexico and Central America. The pre-Columbian spread of maize from its center of origin in tropical Southern Mexico to the higher latitudes of the Americas required postdomestication selection for adaptation to longer day lengths. Flowering time of teosinte and tropical maize is delayed under long day lengths, whereas temperate maize evolved a reduced sensitivity to photoperiod. We measured flowering time of the maize nested association and diverse association mapping panels in the field under both short and long day lengths, and of a maize-teosinte mapping population under long day lengths. Flowering time in maize is a complex trait affected by many genes and the environment. Photoperiod response is one component of flowering time involving a subset of flowering time genes whose effects are strongly influenced by day length. Genome-wide association and targeted high-resolution linkage mapping identified ZmCCT, a homologue of the rice photoperiod response regulator Ghd7, as the most important gene affecting photoperiod response in maize. Under long day lengths ZmCCT alleles from diverse teosintes are consistently expressed at higher levels and confer later flowering than temperate maize alleles. Many maize inbred lines, including some adapted to tropical regions, carry ZmCCT alleles with no sensitivity to day length. Indigenous farmers of the Americas were remarkably successful at selecting on genetic variation at key genes affecting the photoperiod response to create maize varieties adapted to vastly diverse environments despite the hindrance of the geographic axis of the Americas and the complex genetic control of flowering time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E1913-E1921
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
StatePublished - Jul 10 2012


  • Genetic diversity
  • Quantitative trait locus


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