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Arch Biochem Biophys. 2003 Jun 15;414(2):180-8.

Evolution of C4 phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase.

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Department of Plant Biology, The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE-750 07, Uppsala, Sweden. <>


C4 plants are known to be of polyphyletic origin and to have evolved independently several times during the evolution of angiosperms. This implies that the C4 isoform of phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PEPC) originated from a nonphotosynthetic PEPC gene that was already present in the C3 ancestral species. To meet the special requirements of the C4 photosynthetic pathway the expression program of the C4 PEPC gene had to be changed to achieve a strong and selective expression in leaf mesophyll cells. In addition, the altered metabolite concentrations around C4 PEPC in the mesophyll cytoplasm necessitated changes in the enzyme's kinetic and regulatory properties. To obtain insight into the evolutionary steps involved in these altered enzyme characteristics, and even the order of these steps, the dicot genus Flaveria (Asteraceae) appears to be the experimental system of choice. Flaveria contains closely related C3, C3-C4, and C4 species that can be ordered by their gradual increase in C4 photosynthetic traits. The C4 PEPC of F. trinervia, which is encoded by the ppcA gene class, possesses typical kinetic and regulatory features of a C4-type PEPC. Its nearest neighbor is the orthologous ppcA gene of the C3 species F. pringlei. This latter gene encodes a typical nonphotosynthetic C3-type PEPC which is believed to be similar to the C3 ancestral PEPC. This pair of orthologous PEPCs has been used to map C4-specific molecular determinants for the kinetic and regulatory characteristics of C4 PEPCs. The most notable finding from these investigations was the identification of a C4 PEPC invariant site-specific mutation from alanine (C3) to serine (C4) at position 774 that was a necessary and late step in the evolution of C3 to C4 PEPC. The C3-C4 intermediate ppcA PEPCs are used to identify the sequence of events leading from a C3- to a C4-type PEPC.

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