In this issue of PLoS Genetics, Baxter et al.  present an elegant study of the geographic variation in salinity tolerance, and allelic variation at the sodium transport gene AtHKT1;1 in European populations of A. thaliana.
As always, it was great team effort and many thanks go out to my collaborators at Purdue, UChicago, and USC. Here is the non-technical summary of the paper:
The unusual geographical distribution of certain animal and plant species has provided puzzling questions to the scientific community regarding the interrelationship of evolutionary and geographic histories for generations. With DNA sequencing, such puzzles have now extended to the geographical distribution of genetic variation within a species. Here, we explain one such puzzle in the European population of Arabidopsis thaliana, where we find that a version of a gene encoding for a sodium-transporter with reduced function is almost uniquely found in populations of this plant growing close to the coast or on known saline soils. This version of the gene has previously been linked with elevated salinity tolerance, and its unusual distribution in populations of plants growing in coastal regions and on saline soils suggests that it is playing a role in adapting these plants to the elevated salinity of their local environment.
and here is the technical abstract:
The genetic model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, like many plant species, experiences a range of edaphic conditions across its natural habitat. Such heterogeneity may drive local adaptation, though the molecular genetic basis remains elusive. Here, we describe a study in which we used genome-wide association mapping, genetic complementation, and gene expression studies to identify cis-regulatory expression level polymorphisms at the AtHKT1;1 locus, encoding a known sodium (Na+) transporter, as being a major factor controlling natural variation in leaf Na+ accumulation capacity across the global A. thaliana population. A weak allele of AtHKT1;1 that drives elevated leaf Na+ in this population has been previously linked to elevated salinity tolerance. Inspection of the geographical distribution of this allele revealed its significant enrichment in populations associated with the coast and saline soils in Europe. The fixation of this weak AtHKT1;1 allele in these populations is genetic evidence supporting local adaptation to these potentially saline impacted environments.