Date of this Version
Scientific Reports | (2019) 9:9603
Variations in the gene promoter play critical roles in the evolution of important adaptive traits in crops, but direct links of the regulatory mutation to the adaptive change are not well understood. Here, we examine the nucleotide variations in the promoter region of a transcription factor (Ghd8) that control grain number, plant height and heading date in rice. We find that a dominant promoter type of subspecies japonica displayed a high activity for Ghd8 expression in comparison with the one in indica. Transgenic analyses revealed that higher expression levels of Ghd8 delayed heading date and enhanced cold tolerance in rice. Furthermore, a single-nucleotide polymorphism (T1279G) at the position −1279 bp that locates on the potential GA-responsive motif in the Ghd8 promoter affected the expression of this gene. The 1279 T variant has elevated expression of Ghd8, thus conferring increased cold tolerance of rice seedlings. Nucleotide diversity analysis revealed that the approximately 25-kb genomic region surrounding Ghd8 in the subspecies japonica was under significant selection pressure. Our findings demonstrate that the join effects of the regulatory and coding variants largely contribute to the divergence of japonica and indica and increase the adaptability of japonica to the cold environment.