Fitness costs of R-gene-mediated resistance in Arabidopsis thaliana


Resistance genes (R-genes) act as an immune system in plants by recognizing pathogens and inducing defensive pathways. Many R-gene loci are present in plant genomes, presumably reflecting the need to maintain a large repertoire of resistance alleles. These loci also often segregate for resistance and susceptibility alleles that natural selection has maintained as polymorphisms within a species for millions of years1,2,3,4,5. Given the obvious advantage to an individual of being disease resistant, what prevents these resistance alleles from being driven to fixation by natural selection? A cost of resistance6 is one potential explanation; most models require a lower fitness of resistant individuals in the absence of pathogens for long-term persistence of susceptibility alleles7. Here we test for the presence of a cost of resistance at the RPM1 locus of Arabidopsis thaliana. Results of a field experiment comparing the fitness of isogenic strains that differ in the presence or absence of RPM1 and its natural promoter reveal a large cost of RPM1, providing the first evidence that costs contribute to the maintenance of an ancient R-gene polymorphism.

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Figure 1: RPM1 expression.
Figure 2: Total seed numbers.


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We thank J. Dangl for feedback, and members of the Department of Ecology and Evolution for assistance in the field. This research was supported by NIH grants to J.B.

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Correspondence to J. Bergelson.

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Tian, D., Traw, M., Chen, J. et al. Fitness costs of R-gene-mediated resistance in Arabidopsis thaliana. Nature 423, 74–77 (2003).

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