Evolution of flower color pattern through selection on regulatory small RNAs

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Science  17 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6365, pp. 925-928
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao3526

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How the snapdragon chooses its color

In some snapdragons, a yellow spot in a field of magenta shows the bee the best place to go. Flowers of a related subspecies are mainly yellow with magenta veins marking the target. Bradley et al. analyzed a locus that regulates the pattern of color. The locus contains an inverted gene duplication that encodes small RNAs that repress pigment biosynthesis. Analysis of flowers derived from a region of the Pyrenees where the subspecies coexist indicates that natural selection is operating upon the locus.

Science, this issue p. 925


Small RNAs (sRNAs) regulate genes in plants and animals. Here, we show that population-wide differences in color patterns in snapdragon flowers are caused by an inverted duplication that generates sRNAs. The complexity and size of the transcripts indicate that the duplication represents an intermediate on the pathway to microRNA evolution. The sRNAs repress a pigment biosynthesis gene, creating a yellow highlight at the site of pollinator entry. The inverted duplication exhibits steep clines in allele frequency in a natural hybrid zone, showing that the allele is under selection. Thus, regulatory interactions of evolutionarily recent sRNAs can be acted upon by selection and contribute to the evolution of phenotypic diversity.

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