Gene loss and parallel evolution contribute to species difference in flower color.
Although the importance of regulatory and functional sequence evolution in generating species differences has been studied to some extent, much less is known about the role of other types of genomic changes, such as fluctuation in gene copy number. Here, we apply analyses of gene function and expression of anthocyanin pigment pathway genes, as well as cosegregation analyses in backcross populations, to examine the genetic changes involved in the shift from blue to red flowers in Andean Iochroma (Solanaceae). We demonstrate that deletion of a gene coding for an anthocyanin pathway enzyme was necessary for the transition to red floral pigmentation. The downregulation of a second pathway gene was also necessary for the novel flower color, and this regulatory pattern parallels the genetic change in the two other red-flowered species in the sister family Convolvulaceae in which flower color change has been examined genetically. Finally, we document a shift in enzymatic function at a third locus, but the importance of this change in the transition to red flowers depends on the exact order with which the three changes occurred. This study shows that gene inactivation or loss can be involved in the origin of phenotypic differences between species, thereby restricting the possibility of reversion to the ancestral state. It also demonstrates that parallel evolution of red flowers in three different species occurs via a common developmental/regulatory change but by mutations in different genes.
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