A P450-centric view of plant evolution


  • David Nelson,

    1. Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Biochemistry, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, 858 Madison Avenue, Suite G01, Memphis TN 38163, USA
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  • Danièle Werck-Reichhart

    Corresponding author
    1. Institut de Biologie Moléculaire des Plantes, Unité Propre de Recherche 2357 du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, University of Strasbourg, 28 Rue Goethe, F-67083 Strasbourg Cedex, France
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(fax +33 (0)3 68 85 19 21; e-mail daniele.werck@ibmp-cnrs.unistra.fr).


Being by far the largest family of enzymes to support plant metabolism, the cytochrome P450s (CYPs) constitute an excellent reporter of metabolism architecture and evolution. The huge superfamily of CYPs found in angiosperms is built on the successful evolution of 11 ancestral genes, with very different fates and progenies. Essential functions in the production of structural components (membrane sterols), light harvesting (carotenoids) or hormone biosynthesis kept some of them under purifying selection, limiting duplication and sub/neofunctionalization. One group (the CYP71 clan) after an early trigger to diversification, has kept growing, producing bursts of gene duplications at an accelerated rate. The CYP71 clan now represents more than half of all CYPs in higher plants. Such bursts of gene duplication are likely to contribute to adaptation to specific niches and to speciation. They also occur, although with lower frequency, in gene families under purifying selection. The CYP complement (CYPomes) of rice and the model grass weed Brachypodium distachyon have been compared to view evolution in a narrower time window. The results show that evolution of new functions in plant metabolism is a very long-term process. Comparative analysis of the plant CYPomes provides information on the successive steps required for the evolution of land plants, and points to several cases of convergent evolution in plant metabolism. It constitutes a very useful tool for spotting essential functions in plant metabolism and to guide investigations on gene function.