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Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Jun;29(6):1655-67. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mss011. Epub 2012 Jan 16.

Flagellin perception varies quantitatively in Arabidopsis thaliana and its relatives.

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  • 1Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Cologne, Germany.


Much is known about the evolution of plant immunity components directed against specific pathogen strains: They show pervasive functional variation and have the potential to coevolve with pathogen populations. However, plants are effectively protected against most microbes by generalist immunity components that detect conserved pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs) and control the onset of PAMP-triggered immunity. In Arabidopsis thaliana, the receptor kinase flagellin sensing 2 (FLS2) confers recognition of bacterial flagellin (flg22) and activates a manifold defense response. To decipher the evolution of this system, we performed functional assays across a large set of A. thaliana genotypes and Brassicaceae relatives. We reveal extensive variation in flg22 perception, most of which results from changes in protein abundance. The observed variation correlates with both the severity of elicited defense responses and bacterial proliferation. We analyzed nucleotide variation segregating at FLS2 in A. thaliana and detected a pattern of variation suggestive of the rapid fixation of a novel adaptive allele. However, our study also shows that evolution at the receptor locus alone does not explain the evolution of flagellin perception; instead, components common to pathways downstream of PAMP perception likely contribute to the observed quantitative variation. Within and among close relatives, PAMP perception evolves quantitatively, which contrasts with the changes in recognition typically associated with the evolution of R genes.

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