Evolution of a Novel Phenolic Pathway for Pollen Development

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Science  25 Sep 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5948, pp. 1688-1692
DOI: 10.1126/science.1174095

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From Retrogene to Phenolic Metabolism

Metabolic plasticity, which involves the creation of new genes, is an essential feature of plant adaptation and speciation. Studying plants from the mustard family, Matsuno et al. (p. 1688) show that variants of the cytochrome P450 enzyme family were derived through retroposition, duplication, and subsequent mutaton. Evolutionary changes increased the volume of the substrate pocket altering with what sorts of substrates the enzymes could interact. The enzymes formed the basis for a new metabolic pathway, the products of which include constituents of pollen and of phenylpropanoid metabolism.


Metabolic plasticity, which largely relies on the creation of new genes, is an essential feature of plant adaptation and speciation and has led to the evolution of large gene families. A typical example is provided by the diversification of the cytochrome P450 enzymes in plants. We describe here a retroposition, neofunctionalization, and duplication sequence that, via selective and local amino acid replacement, led to the evolution of a novel phenolic pathway in Brassicaceae. This pathway involves a cascade of six successive hydroxylations by two partially redundant cytochromes P450, leading to the formation of N1,N5-di(hydroxyferuloyl)-N10-sinapoylspermidine, a major pollen constituent and so-far-overlooked player in phenylpropanoid metabolism. This example shows how positive Darwinian selection can favor structured clusters of nonsynonymous substitutions that are needed for the transition of enzymes to new functions.

  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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