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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Jul 23;99(15):9905-12. Epub 2002 Jul 15.

Punctuated evolution of mitochondrial gene content: high and variable rates of mitochondrial gene loss and transfer to the nucleus during angiosperm evolution.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


To study the tempo and pattern of mitochondrial gene loss in plants, DNAs from 280 genera of flowering plants were surveyed for the presence or absence of 40 mitochondrial protein genes by Southern blot hybridization. All 14 ribosomal protein genes and both sdh genes have been lost from the mitochondrial genome many times (6 to 42) during angiosperm evolution, whereas only two losses were detected among the other 24 genes. The gene losses have a very patchy phylogenetic distribution, with periods of stasis followed by bursts of loss in certain lineages. Most of the oldest groups of angiosperms are still mired in a prolonged stasis in mitochondrial gene content, containing nearly the same set of genes as their algal ancestors more than a billion years ago. In sharp contrast, other plants have rapidly lost many or all of their 16 mitochondrial ribosomal protein and sdh genes, thereby converging on a reduced gene content more like that of an animal or fungus than a typical plant. In these and many lineages with more modest numbers of losses, the rate of ribosomal protein and sdh gene loss exceeds, sometimes greatly, the rate of mitochondrial synonymous substitutions. Most of these mitochondrial gene losses are probably the consequence of gene transfer to the nucleus; thus, rates of functional gene transfer also may vary dramatically in angiosperms.

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