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C4 Photosynthesis evolved in grasses via parallel adaptive genetic changes.
Phenotypic convergence is a widespread and well-recognized evolutionary phenomenon. However, the responsible molecular mechanisms remain often unknown mainly because the genes involved are not identified. A well-known example of physiological convergence is the C4 photosynthetic pathway, which evolved independently more than 45 times . Here, we address the question of the molecular bases of the C4 convergent phenotypes in grasses (Poaceae) by reconstructing the evolutionary history of genes encoding a C4 key enzyme, the phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase (PEPC). PEPC genes belong to a multigene family encoding distinct isoforms of which only one is involved in C4 photosynthesis . By using phylogenetic analyses, we showed that grass C4 PEPCs appeared at least eight times independently from the same non-C4 PEPC. Twenty-one amino acids evolved under positive selection and converged to similar or identical amino acids in most of the grass C4 PEPC lineages. This is the first record of such a high level of molecular convergent evolution, illustrating the repeatability of evolution. These amino acids were responsible for a strong phylogenetic bias grouping all C4 PEPCs together. The C4-specific amino acids detected must be essential for C4 PEPC enzymatic characteristics, and their identification opens new avenues for the engineering of the C4 pathway in crops.
Amino Acid Substitution, Evolution, Molecular, Genetic Engineering, Molecular Sequence Data, Phosphoenolpyruvate Carboxylase/genetics, Photosynthesis/genetics, Phylogeny, Poaceae/genetics, Selection, Genetic
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