Functional analyses of AGAMOUS family members in Nicotiana benthamiana clarify the evolution of early and late roles of C-function genes in eudicots




The C-function, according to the ABC model of floral organ identity, is required for stamen and carpel development and to provide floral meristem determinacy. Members of the AG lineage of the large MADS box gene family specify the C-function in a broadly conserved manner in angiosperms. In core eudicots, two sub-lineages co-exist, euAG and PLE, which have been extensively characterized in Antirrhinum majus and Arabidopsis thaliana, where strong sub-functionalization has led to highly divergent contributions of the respective paralogs to the C-function. Various scenarios have been proposed to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the euAG and PLE lineages in eudicots, but detailed functional analyses of the roles of these genes in additional representative species to validate evolutionary hypotheses are scarce. Here, we report functional characterization of euAG- and PLE-like genes in Nicotiana benthamiana through expression analyses and phenotypic characterization of the defects caused by their specific down-regulation. We show that both paralogs redundantly contribute to the C-function in this species, providing insights on the likely evolution of these gene lineages following divergence of the major groups within the eudicots (rosids and asterids). Moreover, we have demonstrated a conserved role for the PLE-like genes in controlling fruit dehiscence, which strongly supports the ancestral role of PLE-like genes in late fruit development and suggests a common evolutionary origin of late developmental processes in dry (dehiscent) and fleshy (ripening) fruits.