Assistant Professor Oregon State University, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology
Assembling meaningful comparisons between species is a major limitation in studying the evolution of organismal form. To understand development in maize and sorghum, closely related species with architecturally distinct inflorescences, we collected RNA-seq profiles encompassing inflorescence body-plan specification in both species. We reconstructed molecular ontogenies from 40 B73 maize tassels and 47 BTx623 sorghum panicles and separated them into transcriptional stages. To discover new markers of inflorescence development, we used random forest machine learning to determine stage by RNA-seq. We used two descriptions of transcriptional conservation to identify hourglass-like stages during inflorescence development. Despite a relatively short 12 million years since their last common ancestor, we found maize and sorghum inflorescences are most different during their hourglass-like stages of development, following an inverse-hourglass model of development. We discuss whether agricultural selection may account for the rapid divergence signatures in these species and the observed separation of evolutionary pressure and developmental reprogramming.