, Volume 259, Issue 2-4, pp 217-235
Date: 19 Jun 2006

Capsella as a model system to study the evolutionary relevance of floral homeotic mutants

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Several lines of evidence suggest that homeotic changes played a considerable role during the evolution of flowers. This, however, is difficult to reconcile with the predominant evolutionary theory which rejects any drastic, saltational change of the phenotype as reasonable mode of evolution due to its assumed negative impact on the fitness of the affected organism. A better understanding of the evolutionary potential of homeotic transitions requires a study of the performance of respective mutant varieties in the wild. Here we introduce ``Stamenoid petals'' (Spe), a variety of Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherd's purse), as a suitable model to study the evolutionary potential of floral homeotic mutants. In the flowers of the Spe variety all petals are transformed into stamens, while all other floral organs are unaffected. In contrast to most other homeotic mutants the Spe variety occurs on several locations in relatively large and stable populations in the wild. Due to its close relationship to the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, the Spe variety of C. bursa-pastoris can be rigorously studied, from the molecular genetic basis of the phenotype to its consequences on the fitness in wild habitats. Investigations on Spe may thus help to clarify whether homeotic transformations have the potential to contribute to macroevolution.