Reconstructing the origin and evolution of land plants and their algal relatives is a fundamental problem in plant phylogenetics, and is essential for understanding how critical adaptations arose, including the embryo, vascular tissue, seeds, and flowers. Despite advances in molecular systematics, some hypotheses of relationships remain weakly resolved. Inferring deep phylogenies with bouts of rapid diversification can be problematic; however, genome-scale data should significantly increase the number of informative characters for analyses. Recent phylogenomic reconstructions focused on the major divergences of plants have resulted in promising but inconsistent results. One limitation is sparse taxon sampling, likely resulting from the difficulty and cost of data generation. To address this limitation, transcriptome data for 92 streptophyte taxa were generated and analyzed along with 11 published plant genome sequences. Phylogenetic reconstructions were conducted using up to 852 nuclear genes and 1,701,170 aligned sites. Sixty-nine analyses were performed to test the robustness of phylogenetic inferences to permutations of the data matrix or to phylogenetic method, including supermatrix, supertree, and coalescent-based approaches, maximum-likelihood and Bayesian methods, partitioned and unpartitioned analyses, and amino acid versus DNA alignments. Among other results, we find robust support for a sister-group relationship between land plants and one group of streptophyte green algae, the Zygnematophyceae. Strong and robust support for a clade comprising liverworts and mosses is inconsistent with a widely accepted view of early land plant evolution, and suggests that phylogenetic hypotheses used to understand the evolution of fundamental plant traits should be reevaluated.
Galanthamine is an Amaryllidaceae alkaloid used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. This compound is primarily isolated from daffodil (Narcissus spp.), snowdrop (Galanthus spp.), and summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum). Despite its importance as a medicine, no genes involved in the biosynthetic pathway of galanthamine have been identified. This absence of genetic information on biosynthetic pathways is a limiting factor in the development of synthetic biology platforms for many important botanical medicines. The paucity of information is largely due to the limitations of traditional methods for finding biochemical pathway enzymes and genes in non-model organisms. A new bioinformatic approach using several recent technological improvements was applied to search for genes in the proposed galanthamine biosynthetic pathway, first targeting methyltransferases due to strong signature amino acid sequences in the proteins. Using Illumina sequencing, a de novo transcriptome assembly was constructed for daffodil. BLAST was used to identify sequences that contain signatures for plant O-methyltransferases in this transcriptome. The program HAYSTACK was then used to identify methyltransferases that fit a model for galanthamine biosynthesis in leaf, bulb and inflorescence tissues. One candidate gene for the methylation of norbelladine to 4'-O-methylnorbelladine in the proposed galanthamine biosynthetic pathway was identified. This methyltransferase cDNA was expressed in E. coli and the protein purified by affinity chromatography. The resulting protein was found to be a norbelladine 4'-O-methyltransferase (NpN4OMT) of the proposed galanthamine biosynthetic pathway.
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