, Volume 234, Issue 4, pp 647-656
Date: 18 Aug 2011

Piecing together the puzzle of parasitic plant plastome evolution

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Abstract

The importance of photosynthesis as a mode of energy production has put plastid genomes of plants under a constant purifying selection. This has shaped the characteristic features of plastid genomes across the entire spectrum of photosynthetic plants and has led to a highly uniform and conserved plastid genome with respect to structure, size, gene order, intron and editing site positions and coding capacity. Parasitic species that have dropped photosynthesis as the main energy provider share striking deviations from the plastid genome norm: multiple rearrangements within the circular chromosome, pseudogenization and gene deletions, promoter losses, intron losses as well as the extensive loss of mRNA editing competence have been reported. The collective loss of larger sets of functionally related genes like those for the plastid NADH–dehydrogenase complex and concomitant losses of RNA polymerase genes together with their target promoters point to “domino effects” where an initial loss might have triggered others. An example, which will be discussed in more detail, is the concomitant loss of the intron maturase gene matK and all introns that are supposedly subject to MatK-dependent splicing in two Cuscuta species.