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Mol Biol Evol. 2015 Sep;32(9):2284-301. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msv110. Epub 2015 May 13.

Evolution of CONSTANS Regulation and Function after Gene Duplication Produced a Photoperiodic Flowering Switch in the Brassicaceae.

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  • 1Department of Plant Developmental Biology, Max-Planck-Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Carl-von-Linné-Weg 10, 50829 Cologne, Germany.
  • 2Department of Plant Developmental Biology, Max-Planck-Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Carl-von-Linné-Weg 10, 50829 Cologne, Germany


Environmental control of flowering allows plant reproduction to occur under optimal conditions and facilitates adaptation to different locations. At high latitude, flowering of many plants is controlled by seasonal changes in day length. The photoperiodic flowering pathway confers this response in the Brassicaceae, which colonized temperate latitudes after divergence from the Cleomaceae, their subtropical sister family. The CONSTANS (CO) transcription factor of Arabidopsis thaliana, a member of the Brassicaceae, is central to the photoperiodic flowering response and shows characteristic patterns of transcription required for day-length sensing. CO is believed to be widely conserved among flowering plants; however, we show that it arose after gene duplication at the root of the Brassicaceae followed by divergence of transcriptional regulation and protein function. CO has two close homologs, CONSTANS-LIKE1 (COL1) and COL2, which are related to CO by tandem duplication and whole-genome duplication, respectively. The single CO homolog present in the Cleomaceae shows transcriptional and functional features similar to those of COL1 and COL2, suggesting that these were ancestral. We detect cis-regulatory and codon changes characteristic of CO and use transgenic assays to demonstrate their significance in the day-length-dependent activation of the CO target gene FLOWERING LOCUS T. Thus, the function of CO as a potent photoperiodic flowering switch evolved in the Brassicaceae after gene duplication. The origin of CO may have contributed to the range expansion of the Brassicaceae and suggests that in other families CO genes involved in photoperiodic flowering arose by convergent evolution.


Brassicaceae; CONSTANS; flowering; tandem gene duplication

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