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New Phytol. 2012 Jan;193(2):304-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8137.2011.03972.x. Epub 2011 Nov 24.

New grass phylogeny resolves deep evolutionary relationships and discovers C4 origins.


• Grasses rank among the world's most ecologically and economically important plants. Repeated evolution of the C(4) syndrome has made photosynthesis highly efficient in many grasses, inspiring intensive efforts to engineer the pathway into C(3) crops. However, comparative biology has been of limited use to this endeavor because of uncertainty in the number and phylogenetic placement of C(4) origins. • We built the most comprehensive and robust molecular phylogeny for grasses to date, expanding sampling efforts of a previous working group from 62 to 531 taxa, emphasizing the C(4)-rich PACMAD (Panicoideae, Arundinoideae, Chloridoideae, Micrairoideae, Aristidoideae and Danthonioideae) clade. Our final matrix comprises c. 5700 bp and is > 93% complete. • For the first time, we present strong support for relationships among all the major grass lineages. Several new C(4) lineages are identified, and previously inferred origins confirmed. C(3)/C(4) evolutionary transitions have been highly asymmetrical, with 22-24 inferred origins of the C(4) pathway and only one potential reversal. • Our backbone tree clarifies major outstanding systematic questions and highlights C(3) and C(4) sister taxa for comparative studies. Two lineages have emerged as hotbeds of C(4) evolution. Future work in these lineages will be instrumental in understanding the evolution of this complex trait.

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