Rare allele of a previously unidentified histone H4 acetyltransferase enhances grain weight, yield, and plant biomass in rice

Xian Jun Song, Takeshi Kuroha, Madoka Ayano, Tomoyuki Furuta, Keisuke Nagai, Norio Komeda, Shuhei Segami, Kotaro Miura, Daisuke Ogawa, Takumi Kamura, Takamasa Suzuki, Tetsuya Higashiyama, Masanori Yamasaki, Hitoshi Mori, Yoshiaki Inukai, Jianzhong Wu, Hidemi Kitano, Hitoshi Sakakibara, Steven E. Jacobsen, Motoyuki Ashikari

Grain weight is an important crop yield component; however, its underlying regulatory mechanisms are largely unknown. Here, we identify a grain-weight quantitative trait locus (QTL) encoding a new-type GNAT-like protein that harbors intrinsic histone acetyltransferase activity (OsglHAT1). Our genetic and molecular evidences pinpointed the QTL-OsglHAT1’s allelic variations to a 1.2-kb region upstream of the gene body, which is consistent with its function as a positive regulator of the traits. Elevated OsglHAT1 expression enhances grain weight and yield by enlarging spikelet hulls via increasing cell number and accelerating grain filling, and increases global acetylation levels of histone H4. OsglHAT1 localizes to the nucleus, where it likely functions through the regulation of transcription. Despite its positive agronomical effects on grain weight, yield, and plant biomass, the rare allele elevating OsglHAT1 expression has so far escaped human selection. Our findings reveal the first example, to our knowledge, of a QTL for a yield component trait being due to a chromatin modifier that has the potential to improve crop high-yield breeding.