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Curr Biol. 2014 Aug 18;24(16):1880-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.06.061. Epub 2014 Aug 7.

Repeated evolutionary changes of leaf morphology caused by mutations to a homeobox gene.

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Institut für Biochemie und Biologie, Universität Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht Straße 24-25, 14476 Potsdam-Golm, Germany.
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, 25 Willcocks Street, Toronto, ON M5S 3B2, Canada.
Department of Metabolic Networks, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Am Mühlenberg 1, 14476 Potsdam, Germany.
Institut für Biochemie und Biologie, Universität Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht Straße 24-25, 14476 Potsdam-Golm, Germany. Electronic address:


Elucidating the genetic basis of morphological changes in evolution remains a major challenge in biology. Repeated independent trait changes are of particular interest because they can indicate adaptation in different lineages or genetic and developmental constraints on generating morphological variation. In animals, changes to "hot spot" genes with minimal pleiotropy and large phenotypic effects underlie many cases of repeated morphological transitions. By contrast, only few such genes have been identified from plants, limiting cross-kingdom comparisons of the principles of morphological evolution. Here, we demonstrate that the REDUCED COMPLEXITY (RCO) locus underlies more than one naturally evolved change in leaf shape in the Brassicaceae. We show that the difference in leaf margin dissection between the sister species Capsella rubella and Capsella grandiflora is caused by cis-regulatory variation in the homeobox gene RCO-A, which alters its activity in the developing lobes of the leaf. Population genetic analyses in the ancestral C. grandiflora indicate that the more-active C. rubella haplotype is derived from a now rare or lost C. grandiflora haplotype via additional mutations. In Arabidopsis thaliana, the deletion of the RCO-A and RCO-B genes has contributed to its evolutionarily derived smooth leaf margin, suggesting the RCO locus as a candidate for an evolutionary hot spot. We also find that temperature-responsive expression of RCO-A can explain the phenotypic plasticity of leaf shape to ambient temperature in Capsella, suggesting a molecular basis for the well-known negative correlation between temperature and leaf margin dissection.

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