The genetic architecture of disease resistance in plants and the maintenance of recombination by parasites


Paula X. Krover. Fax: (314) 935 4432;


Parasites represent strong selection on host populations because they are ubiquitous and can drastically reduce host fitness. It has been hypothesized that parasite selection could explain the widespread occurrence of recombination because it is a coevolving force that favours new genetic combinations in the host. A review of deterministic models for the maintenance of recombination reveals that for recombination to be favoured, multiple genes that interact with each other must be under selection. To evaluate whether parasite selection can explain the maintenance of recombination, we review 85 studies that investigated the genetic architecture of plant disease resistance and discuss whether they conform to the requirements that emerge from theoretical models. General characteristics of disease resistance in plants and problems in evaluating resistance experimentally are also discussed. We found strong evidence that disease resistance in plants is determined by multiple loci. Furthermore, in most cases where loci were tested for interactions, epistasis between loci that affect resistance was found. However, we found weak support for the idea that specific allelic combinations determine resistance to different host genotypes and there was little data on whether epistasis between resistance genes is negative or positive. Thus, the current data indicate that it is possible that parasite selection can favour recombination, but more studies in natural populations that specifically address the nature of the interactions between resistance genes are necessary. The data summarized here suggest that disease resistance is a complex trait and that environmental effects and fitness trade-offs should be considered in future models of the coevolutionary dynamics of host and parasites.