Plant Molecular Biology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 45-75

First online:

Contributions of plant molecular systematics to studies of molecular evolution

  • E. Douglas SoltisAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, Washington State University
  • , Pamela S. SoltisAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, Washington State University

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Dobzhansky stated that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. A close corollary, and the central theme of this paper, is that everything makes a lot more sense in the light of phylogeny. Systematics is in the midst of a renaissance, heralded by the widespread application of new analytical approaches and the introduction of molecular techniques. Molecular phylogenetic analyses are now commonplace, and they have provided unparalleled insights into relationships at all levels of plant phylogeny. At deep levels, molecular studies have revealed that charophyte green algae are the closest relatives of the land plants and suggested that liverworts are sister to all other extant land plants. Other studies have suggested that lycopods are sister to all other vascular plants and clarified relationships among the ferns. The impact of molecular phylogenetics on the angiosperms has been particularly dramatic – some of the largest phylogenetic analyses yet conducted have involved the angiosperms. Inferences from three genes (rbcL, atpB, 18S rDNA) agree in the major features of angiosperm phylogeny and have resulted in a reclassification of the angiosperms. This ordinal-level reclassification is perhaps the most dramatic and important change in higher-level angiosperm taxonomy in the past 200 years. At lower taxonomic levels, phylogenetic analyses have revealed the closest relatives of many crops and ‘model organisms’ for studies of molecular genetics, concomitantly pointing to possible relatives for use in comparative studies and plant breeding. Furthermore, phylogenetic information has contributed to new perspectives on the evolution of polyploid genomes. The phylogenetic trees now available at all levels of the taxonomic hierarchy for angiosperms and other green plants should play a pivotal role in comparative studies in diverse fields from ecology to molecular evolution and comparative genetics.

angiosperms land plants model organisms phylogenetics polyploidy seed plants