Economic Botany

, Volume 44, Supplement 3, pp 6–27 | Cite as

Molecular Evidence and the Evolution of Maize

  • John Doebley


In this review, the contributions of isozyme and chloroplast DNA studies to questions surrounding the evolution of maize are summarized. These methods of analysis provide generally strong support for the hierarchical system of classification of Zea proposed by Iltis and Doebley (1980). Molecular evidence is fully congruent with the theory that teosinte is ancestral to maize and suggests thatZ. mays subsp.parviglumis was the ancestral teosinte taxon. Further, these data show that only those populations from the central region of the range of subsp. parviglumis resemble maize in both isozymic and chloroplast DNA constitution. Presuming no major changes in the distribution of subsp. parviglumis since the domestication of maize, these data would place the origin of maize in the Balsas River drainage southwest of Mexico City. Molecular systematic evidence provides no support for theories that maize was domesticated independently several times; however, this type of data can not disprove such theories. Analyses of isozyme and chloroplast DNA diversity in Zea provide evidence of limited gene flow between maize and teosinte, but are not consistent with models that postulate extensive genetic interchange between these taxa. Isozyme studies have added substantially to the understanding of evolutionary relationships among extant races of maize and suggest that there are a small number of major racial complexes in Meso- and North America which have often evolved in response to environmental constraints associated with altitude. Ultimately, molecular genetic studies may allow a resolution of the controversy surrounding the morphological evolution of the maize ear.


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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Doebley
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyUniversity of MinnesotaSt. Paul

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