During meiosis homologous chromosomes undergo crossover recombination. Sequence differences between homologs can locally inhibit crossovers. Despite this, nucleotide diversity and population-scaled recombination are positively correlated in eukaryote genomes. To investigate interactions between heterozygosity and recombination we crossed Arabidopsis lines carrying fluorescent crossover reporters to 32 diverse accessions and observed hybrids with significantly higher and lower crossovers than homozygotes. Using recombinant populations derived from these crosses we observed that heterozygous regions increase crossovers when juxtaposed with homozygous regions, which reciprocally decrease. Total crossovers measured by chiasmata were unchanged when heterozygosity was varied, consistent with homeostatic control. We tested the effects of heterozygosity in mutants where the balance of interfering and non-interfering crossover repair is altered. Crossover remodeling at homozygosity-heterozygosity junctions requires interference, and non-interfering repair is inefficient in heterozygous regions. As a consequence, heterozygous regions show stronger crossover interference. Our findings reveal how varying homolog polymorphism patterns can shape meiotic recombination.
The genomes of plants and animals consist of several long DNA molecules that are called chromosomes. Most organisms carry two copies of each chromosome: one inherited from each parent. This means that an individual has two copies of each gene. Some of these gene copies may be identical (known as ‘homozygous’), but other gene copies will have sequence differences (or be ‘heterozygous’).
The sex cells (eggs and sperm) that pass half of each parent's genes on to its offspring are made in a process called meiosis. Before the pairs of each chromosome are separated to make two new sex cells, sections of genetic material can be swapped between a chromosome-pair to produce chromosomes with unique combinations of genetic material.
The ‘crossover’ events that cause the genetic material to be swapped are less likely to happen in sections of chromosomes that contain heterozygous genes. However, in a whole population of organisms, the exchange of genetic material between pairs of chromosomes tends to be higher when there are more genetic differences present.
Here, Ziolkowski et al. sought to understand these two seemingly contradictory phenomena by studying crossover events during meiosis in a plant known as Arabidopsis. The plants were genetically modified to carry fluorescent proteins that mark when and where crossovers occur. Ziolkowski et al. cross-bred these plants with 32 other varieties of Arabidopsis. The experiments show that some of these ‘hybrid’ plants had higher numbers of crossover events than plants produced from two genetically identical parents, but other hybrid plants had lower numbers of crossovers.
Ziolkowski et al. found that crossovers are more common between heterozygous regions that are close to homozygous regions on the same chromosome. The boundaries between these identical and non-identical regions are important for determining where crossovers take place. The experiments also show that the heterozygous regions have higher levels of interference—where one crossover event prevents other crossover events from happening nearby on the chromosome. In future, using chromosomes with varying patterns of heterozygosity may shed light on how this interference works.