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Phytochemistry. 2009 Oct-Nov;70(15-16):1687-95. doi: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2009.05.017. Epub 2009 Jun 21.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloid biosynthesis, evolution of a pathway in plant secondary metabolism.

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Biochemische Okologie und Molekulare Evolution, Botanisches Institut und Botanischer Garten, Universit├Ąt Kiel, Kiel, Germany.


The system of pyrrolizidine alkaloids has proven to be a powerful system for studying the evolution of a biosynthetic pathway in plant secondary metabolism. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are typical plant secondary products produced by the plant as a defense against herbivores. The first specific enzyme, homospermidine synthase, has been shown to have evolved by duplication of the gene encoding deoxyhypusine synthase, which is involved in primary metabolism. Despite the identical function of homospermidine synthase for pyrrolizidine alkaloid biosynthesis in the various plant lineages, this gene duplication has occurred several times independently during angiosperm evolution. After duplication, these gene copies diverged with respect to gene function and regulation. In the diverse plant lineages producing pyrrolizidine alkaloids, homospermidine synthase has been shown to be expressed in a variety of tissues, suggesting that the regulatory elements were recruited individually after the duplication of the structural gene. The molecular, kinetic, and expression data of this system are discussed with respect to current models of gene and pathway evolution.

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