Regulatory Genes Control a Key Morphological and Ecological Trait Transferred Between Species

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Science  14 Nov 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5904, pp. 1116-1119
DOI: 10.1126/science.1164371

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Hybridization between species can lead to introgression of genes from one species to another, providing a potential mechanism for preserving and recombining key traits during evolution. To determine the molecular basis of such transfers, we analyzed a natural polymorphism for flower-head development in Senecio. We show that the polymorphism arose by introgression of a cluster of regulatory genes, the RAY locus, from the diploid species S. squalidus into the tetraploid S. vulgaris. The RAY genes are expressed in the peripheral regions of the inflorescence meristem, where they promote flower asymmetry and lead to an increase in the rate of outcrossing. Our results highlight how key morphological and ecological traits controlled by regulatory genes may be gained, lost, and regained during evolution.

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