Ecological transition predictably associated with gene degeneration.
Gene degeneration or loss can significantly contribute to phenotypic diversification, but may generate genetic constraints on future evolutionary trajectories, potentially restricting phenotypic reversal. Such constraints may manifest as directional evolutionary trends when parallel phenotypic shifts consistently involve gene degeneration or loss. Here, we demonstrate that widespread parallel evolution in Penstemon from blue to red flowers predictably involves the functional inactivation and degeneration of the enzyme flavonoid 3',5'-hydroxylase (F3'5'H), an anthocyanin pathway enzyme required for the production of blue floral pigments. Other types of genetic mutations do not consistently accompany this phenotypic shift. This pattern may be driven by the relatively large mutational target size of degenerative mutations to this locus and the apparent lack of associated pleiotropic effects. The consistent degeneration of F3'5'H may provide a mechanistic explanation for the observed asymmetry in the direction of flower color evolution in Penstemon: Blue to red transitions are common, but reverse transitions have not been observed. Although phenotypic shifts in this system are likely driven by natural selection, internal constraints may generate predictable genetic outcomes and may restrict future evolutionary trajectories.
Wessinger, CA; Rausher, MD
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