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Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2002;37(3):121-47.

Utility of low-copy nuclear gene sequences in plant phylogenetics.

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Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, East Lansing 48824, USA.


Low-copy nuclear genes in plants are a rich source of phylogenetic information. They hold a great potential to improve the robustness of phylogenetic reconstruction at all taxonomic levels, especially where universal markers such as cpDNA and nrDNA are unable to generate strong phylogenetic hypotheses. Low-copy nuclear genes, however, remain underused in plant phylogenetic studies due to practical and theoretical complications in unraveling the evolutionary dynamics of nuclear gene families. The lack of the universal markers or universal PCR primers of low-copy nuclear genes has also hampered their phylogenetic utility. It has recently become clear that low-copy nuclear genes are particularly helpful in resolving close interspecific relationships and in reconstructing allopolyploidization in plants. Gene markers that are widely, if not universally, useful have begun to emerge. Although utilizing low-copy nuclear genes usually requires extra lab work such as designing PCR primers, PCR-cloning, and/or Southern blotting, rapid accumulation of gene sequences in the databases and advances in cloning techniques have continued to make such studies more feasible. With the growing number of theoretical studies devoted to the gene tree and species tree problem, a solid foundation for reconstructing complex plant phylogenies based on multiple gene trees began to build. It is also realized increasingly that fast evolving introns of the low-copy nuclear genes will provide much needed phylogenetic information around the species boundary and allow us to address fundamental questions concerning processes of plant speciation. Phylogenetic and molecular evolutionary analyses of developmentally important genes will add a new dimension to systematic and evolutionary studies of plant diversity.

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