Natural variation in plant telomere length is associated with flowering time

Jae Young Choi, Liliia R. Abdulkina, Jun Yin, Inna B. Chastukhina, John T. Lovell, Inna A. Agabekian, Pierce G. Young, Samsad Razzaque, Dorothy E. Shippen, Thomas E. Juenger, Eugene V. Shakirov, Michael D. Purugganan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Telomeres are highly repetitive DNA sequences found at the ends of chromosomes that protect the chromosomes from deterioration duringcell division. Here, using whole-genome re-sequencing and terminal restriction fragment assays, we found substantial natural intraspecific variation in telomere length in Arabidopsis thaliana, rice (Oryza sativa), and maize (Zea mays). Genome-wide association study (GWAS) mapping in A. thaliana identified 13 regions with GWAS-significant associations underlying telomere length variation, including a region that harbors the telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) gene. Population genomic analysis provided evidence for a selective sweep at the TERT region associated with longer telomeres. We found that telomere length is negatively correlated with flowering time variation not only in A. thaliana, but also in maize and rice, indicating a link between life-history traits and chromosome integrity. Our results point to several possible reasons for this correlation, including the possibility that longer telomeres may be more adaptive in plants that have faster developmental rates (and therefore flower earlier). Our work suggests that chromosomal structure itself might be an adaptive trait associated with plant life-history strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1118-1134
Number of pages17
JournalPlant Cell
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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