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Keywords:

  • association mapping;
  • climate change;
  • genome scan;
  • MADS-box;
  • Pennisetum glaucum

The compelling elegance of using genome-wide scans to detect the signature of selection is difficult to resist, but is countered by the low demonstrated efficacy of pinpointing the actual genes and traits that are the targets of selection in nonmodel species. While the difficulty of going from a suggestive signature to a functional nucleotide polymorphism should not prevent researchers from using genome scans, it does lessen their long-term utility within and across study systems. In a new study published in this issue of Molecular Ecology (Mariac et al. 2011), researchers have gone a long way towards increasing the relevance of genome-wide scans for selection via two approaches: (i) they tailored the markers used in the scan to target a family of developmental genes that were good candidates for controlling a trait of interest and (ii) they used an independent mapping population to confirm the association of the gene with polymorphism in the trait of interest. All of this was completed in the nonmodel system of pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) and may provide a road map for other researchers hoping to pin down solid candidate genes for selected traits in natural or cultivated systems. Outside of these broad methodological innovations, the paper specifically focuses on a trait (flowering time) that varies across an environmental gradient (rainfall). This environmental gradient potentially serves as a model for environmental change over time, and allele frequencies at the gene can therefore be used to track how populations of pearl millet will adapt to future climate shifts at the genetic level.