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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 16;106 Suppl 1:9947-54. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0901594106. Epub 2009 Jun 15.

Adaptive radiations: from field to genomic studies.

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  • 1Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA. hodges@lifesci.ucsb.edu


Adaptive radiations were central to Darwin's formation of his theory of natural selection, and today they are still the centerpiece for many studies of adaptation and speciation. Here, we review the advantages of adaptive radiations, especially recent ones, for detecting evolutionary trends and the genetic dissection of adaptive traits. We focus on Aquilegia as a primary example of these advantages and highlight progress in understanding the genetic basis of flower color. Phylogenetic analysis of Aquilegia indicates that flower color transitions proceed by changes in the types of anthocyanin pigments produced or their complete loss. Biochemical, crossing, and gene expression studies have provided a wealth of information about the genetic basis of these transitions in Aquilegia. To obtain both enzymatic and regulatory candidate genes for the entire flavonoid pathway, which produces anthocyanins, we used a combination of sequence searches of the Aquilegia Gene Index, phylogenetic analyses, and the isolation of novel sequences by using degenerate PCR and RACE. In total we identified 34 genes that are likely involved in the flavonoid pathway. A number of these genes appear to be single copy in Aquilegia and thus variation in their expression may have been key for floral color evolution. Future studies will be able to use these sequences along with next-generation sequencing technologies to follow expression and sequence variation at the population level. The genetic dissection of other adaptive traits in Aquilegia should also be possible soon as genomic resources such as whole-genome sequencing become available.

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