It is commonly believed that gene duplications provide the raw material for morphological evolution. Both the number of genes and size of gene families have increased during the diversification of land plants. Several small proteins that regulate transcription factors have recently been identified in plants, including the LITTLE ZIPPER (ZPR) proteins. ZPRs are post-translational negative regulators, via heterodimerization, of class III Homeodomain Leucine Zipper (C3HDZ) proteins that play a key role in directing plant form and growth. We show that ZPR genes originated as a duplication of a C3HDZ transcription factor paralog in the common ancestor of euphyllophytes (ferns and seed plants). The ZPRs evolved by degenerative mutations resulting in loss all of the C3HDZ functional domains, except the leucine zipper that modulates dimerization. ZPRs represent a novel regulatory module of the C3HDZ network unique to the euphyllophyte lineage, and their origin correlates to a period of rapid morphological changes and increased complexity in land plants. The origin of the ZPRs illustrates the significance of gene duplications in creating developmental complexity during land plant evolution that likely led to morphological evolution.
Class IV homeodomain leucine zipper (C4HDZ) genes are plant-specific transcription factors that, based on phenotypes in Arabidopsis thaliana, play an important role in epidermal development. In this study, we sampled all major extant lineages and their closest algal relatives for C4HDZ homologs and phylogenetic analyses result in a gene tree that mirrors land plant evolution with evidence for gene duplications in many lineages, but minimal evidence for gene losses. Our analysis suggests an ancestral C4HDZ gene originated in an algal ancestor of land plants and a single ancestral gene was present in the last common ancestor of land plants. Independent gene duplications are evident within several lineages including mosses, lycophytes, euphyllophytes, seed plants, and, most notably, angiosperms. In recently evolved angiosperm paralogs, we find evidence of pseudogenization via mutations in both coding and regulatory sequences. The increasing complexity of the C4HDZ gene family through the diversification of land plants correlates to increasing complexity in epidermal characters.
Vascular plants appeared ~410 million years ago, then diverged into several lineages of which only two survive: the euphyllophytes (ferns and seed plants) and the lycophytes. We report here the genome sequence of the lycophyte Selaginella moellendorffii (Selaginella), the first nonseed vascular plant genome reported. By comparing gene content in evolutionarily diverse taxa, we found that the transition from a gametophyte- to a sporophyte-dominated life cycle required far fewer new genes than the transition from a nonseed vascular to a flowering plant, whereas secondary metabolic genes expanded extensively and in parallel in the lycophyte and angiosperm lineages. Selaginella differs in posttranscriptional gene regulation, including small RNA regulation of repetitive elements, an absence of the trans-acting small interfering RNA pathway, and extensive RNA editing of organellar genes.
In seed plants, leaves are born on radial shoots, but unlike shoots, they are determinate dorsiventral organs made of flat lamina. YABBY genes are found only in seed plants and in all cases studied are expressed primarily in lateral organs and in a polar manner. Despite their simple expression, Arabidopsis thaliana plants lacking all YABBY gene activities have a wide range of morphological defects in all lateral organs as well as the shoot apical meristem (SAM). Here, we show that leaves lacking all YABBY activities are initiated as dorsiventral appendages but fail to properly activate lamina programs. In particular, the activation of most CINCINNATA-class TCP genes does not commence, SAM-specific programs are reactivated, and a marginal leaf domain is not established. Altered distribution of auxin signaling and the auxin efflux carrier PIN1, highly reduced venation, initiation of multiple cotyledons, and gradual loss of the SAM accompany these defects. We suggest that YABBY functions were recruited to mold modified shoot systems into flat plant appendages by translating organ polarity into lamina-specific programs that include marginal auxin flow and activation of a maturation schedule directing determinate growth.
Arabidopsis APETALA2 (AP2) controls seed mass maternally, with ap2 mutants producing larger seeds than wild type. Here, we show that AP2 influences development of the three major seed compartments: embryo, endosperm, and seed coat. AP2 appears to have a significant effect on endosperm development. ap2 mutant seeds undergo an extended period of rapid endosperm growth early in development relative to wild type. This early expanded growth period in ap2 seeds is associated with delayed endosperm cellularization and overgrowth of the endosperm central vacuole. The subsequent period of moderate endosperm growth is also extended in ap2 seeds largely due to persistent cell divisions at the endosperm periphery. The effect of AP2 on endosperm development is mediated by different mechanisms than parent-of-origin effects on seed size observed in interploidy crosses. Seed coat development is affected; integument cells of ap2 mutants are more elongated than wild type. We conclude that endosperm overgrowth and/or integument cell elongation create a larger postfertilization embryo sac into which the ap2 embryo can grow. Morphological development of the embryo is initially delayed in ap2 compared with wild-type seeds, but ap2 embryos become larger than wild type after the bent-cotyledon stage of development. ap2 embryos are able to fill the enlarged postfertilization embryo sac, because they undergo extended periods of cell proliferation and seed filling. We discuss potential mechanisms by which maternally acting AP2 influences development of the zygotic embryo and endosperm to repress seed size.
The fossil record reveals that seed plant leaves evolved from ancestral lateral branch systems. Over time, the lateral branch systems evolved to become determinate, planar and eventually laminar. Considering their evolutionary histories, it is instructive to compare the developmental genetics of shoot apical meristems (SAMs) and leaves in extant seed plants. Genetic experiments in model angiosperm species have assigned functions of meristem maintenance, specification of stem cell identity, boundary formation, polarity establishment and primordium initiation to specific genes. Investigation of roles of the same or homologous genes during leaf development has revealed strikingly similar functions in leaves compared to SAMs. Specifically, the marginal blastozone that characterizes many angiosperm leaves appears to function in a manner mechanistically similar to the SAM. We argue here that the similarities may be homologous due to descent from ancestral roles in an ancestral shoot system. Molecular aspects of SAM and leaf development in gymnosperms is largely neglected and could provide insight into seed plant leaf evolution.
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