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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 8;108(6):2343-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1011361108. Epub 2011 Jan 31.

Gradual disintegration of the floral symmetry gene network is implicated in the evolution of a wind-pollination syndrome.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA.


Angiosperms exhibit staggering diversity in floral form, and evolution of floral morphology is often correlated with changes in pollination syndrome. The showy, bilaterally symmetrical flowers of the model species Antirrhinum majus (Plantaginaceae) are highly specialized for bee pollination. In A. majus, Cycloidea (CYC), Dichotoma (DICH), Radialis (RAD), and Divaricata (DIV) specify the development of floral bilateral symmetry. However, it is unclear to what extent evolution of these genes has resulted in flower morphological divergence among closely related members of Plantaginaceae differing in pollination syndrome. We compared floral symmetry genes from insect-pollinated Digitalis purpurea, which has bilaterally symmetrical flowers, with those from closely related Aragoa abietina and wind-pollinated Plantago major, both of which have radially symmetrical flowers. We demonstrate that Plantago, but not Aragoa, species have lost a dorsally expressed CYC-like gene and downstream targets RAD and DIV. Furthermore, the single P. major CYC-like gene is expressed across all regions of the flower, similar to expression of its ortholog in closely related Veronica serpyllifolia. We propose that changes in the expression of duplicated CYC-like genes led to the evolution of radial flower symmetry in Aragoa/Plantago, and that further disintegration of the symmetry gene pathway resulted in the wind-pollination syndrome of Plantago. This model underscores the potential importance of gene loss in the evolution of ecologically important traits.

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