One of the challenges of comparative genomics is to identify specific genetic changes associated with the evolution of a novel adaptation or trait. We need to be able to disassociate the genes involved with a particular character from all the other genetic changes that take place as lineages diverge. Here we show that by comparing the transcriptional profile of segregating families with that of parent species differing in a novel trait, it is possible to narrow down substantially the list of potential target genes. In addition, by assuming synteny with a related model organism for which the complete genome sequence is available, it is possible to use the cosegregation of markers differing in transcription level to identify regions of the genome which probably contain quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for the character. This novel combination of genomics and classical genetics provides a very powerful tool to identify candidate genes. We use this methodology to investigate zinc hyperaccumulation in Arabidopsis halleri, the sister species to the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. We compare the transcriptional profile of A. halleri with that of its sister nonaccumulator species, Arabidopsis petraea, and between accumulator and nonaccumulator F3s derived from the cross between the two species. We identify eight genes which consistently show greater expression in accumulator phenotypes in both roots and shoots, including two metal transporter genes (NRAMP3 and ZIP6), and cytoplasmic aconitase, a gene involved in iron homeostasis in mammals. We also show that there appear to be two QTLs for zinc accumulation, on chromosomes 3 and 7.
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