A new insight into arable weed adaptive evolution: mutations endowing herbicide resistance also affect germination dynamics and seedling emergence

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Background and Aims

Selective pressures exerted by agriculture on populations of arable weeds foster the evolution of adaptive traits. Germination and emergence dynamics and herbicide resistance are key adaptive traits. Herbicide resistance alleles can have pleiotropic effects on a weed's life cycle. This study investigated the pleiotropic effects of three acetyl-coenzyme A carboxylase (ACCase) alleles endowing herbicide resistance on the seed-to-plant part of the life cycle of the grass weed Alopecurus myosuroides.


In each of two series of experiments, A. myosuroides populations with homogenized genetic backgrounds and segregating for Leu1781, Asn2041 or Gly2078 ACCase mutations which arose independently were used to compare germination dynamics, survival in the soil and seedling pre-emergence growth among seeds containing wild-type, heterozygous and homozygous mutant ACCase embryos.

Key Results

Asn2041 ACCase caused no significant effects. Gly2078 ACCase major effects were a co-dominant acceleration in seed germination (1·25- and 1·10-fold decrease in the time to reach 50 % germination (T50) for homozygous and heterozygous mutant embryos, respectively). Segregation distortion against homozygous mutant embryos or a co-dominant increase in fatal germination was observed in one series of experiments. Leu1781 ACCase major effects were a co-dominant delay in seed germination (1·41- and 1·22-fold increase in T50 for homozygous and heterozygous mutant embryos, respectively) associated with a substantial co-dominant decrease in fatal germination.


Under current agricultural systems, plants carrying Leu1781 or Gly2078 ACCase have a fitness advantage conferred by herbicide resistance that is enhanced or counterbalanced, respectively, by direct pleiotropic effects on the plant phenology. Pleiotropic effects associated with mutations endowing herbicide resistance undoubtedly play a significant role in the evolutionary dynamics of herbicide resistance in weed populations. Mutant ACCase alleles should also prove useful to investigate the role played by seed storage lipids in the control of seed dormancy and germination.

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