Natural variation in GL1 and its effects on trichome density in Arabidopsis thaliana


V. Vaughan Symonds, Fax: 011 646 350 5688; E-mail:


The ultimate understanding of how biological diversity arises, is maintained, and lost depends on identifying the genes responsible. Although a good deal has been discovered about gene function over the past few decades, far less is understood about gene effects, that is, how natural variation in a gene contributes to natural variation in phenotypes. Trichome density in Arabidopsis thaliana is an ideal trait for studies of natural molecular and phenotypic variation, as trichome initiation is genetically well-characterized and trichome density is highly variable in and among natural populations. Here, we show that variation at GLABRA1 (GL1), an R2R3 MYB transcription factor gene, which has a role in trichome initiation, has qualitative and likely quantitative effects on trichome density in natural accessions of A. thaliana. Specifically, we characterize four independent loss-of-function alleles for GL1, each of which yields a glabrous phenotype. Further, we find that a pattern of common polymorphisms confined to the GL1 locus is associated with quantitative variation for trichome density. While mutations resulting in a glabrous phenotype are primarily coding changes, the pattern resulting in quantitative variation spans both coding and regulatory regions. These data show that GL1 is an important source of trichome density variation within A. thaliana and, along with recent reports, suggest that the TTG1 epidermal cell fate pathway generally may be the key molecular genetic source of natural trichome density variation and an important model for the study of molecular evolution.