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Genetics. 2008 May;179(1):517-26. doi: 10.1534/genetics.107.080366. Epub 2008 May 5.

Evidence on the molecular basis of the Ac/ac adaptive cyanogenesis polymorphism in white clover (Trifolium repens L).

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Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899, USA.


White clover is polymorphic for cyanogenesis, with both cyanogenic and acyanogenic plants occurring in nature. This chemical defense polymorphism is one of the longest-studied and best-documented examples of an adaptive polymorphism in plants. It is controlled by two independently segregating genes: Ac/ac controls the presence/absence of cyanogenic glucosides; and Li/li controls the presence/absence of their hydrolyzing enzyme, linamarase. Whereas Li is well characterized at the molecular level, Ac has remained unidentified. Here we report evidence that Ac corresponds to a gene encoding a cytochrome P450 of the CYP79D protein subfamily (CYP79D15), and we describe the apparent molecular basis of the Ac/ac polymorphism. CYP79D orthologs catalyze the first step in cyanogenic glucoside biosynthesis in other cyanogenic plant species. In white clover, Southern hybridizations indicate that CYP79D15 occurs as a single-copy gene in cyanogenic plants but is absent from the genomes of ac plants. Gene-expression analyses by RT-PCR corroborate this finding. This apparent molecular basis of the Ac/ac polymorphism parallels our previous findings for the Li/li polymorphism, which also arises through the presence/absence of a single-copy gene. The nature of these polymorphisms may reflect white clover's evolutionary origin as an allotetraploid derived from cyanogenic and acyanogenic diploid progenitors.

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