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Extensive evolutionary rate variation in floral color determining genes in the genus Ipomoea


Michael T. Clegg


Flower color is an important adaptive trait in many plant species because it determines reproductive success through differential attractiveness to insect pollinators. The genus Ipomoea is a pan tropically distributed plant genus characterized by showy flowers that often differ in color among closely related species. Flower color is determined primarily by products of the anthocyanin biosynthesis pathway. To determine whether flower color evolution among members of the genus is driven by adaptive molecular evolution of the anthocyanin pathway genes, we analyzed data from 10 genes sequenced from 19 species of Ipomoea. Six protein-coding genes from the anthocyanin pathway were drawn for evolutionary analysis in addition to three genes from the unrelated leucine biosynthesis pathway and one MADS box regulatory gene for comparison. The analyses provided: (i) no convincing evidence for positive selection on anthocyanin pathway structural genes, or on the other sampled genes, despite shifts in flower color among species included in the sample; (ii) pathway position correlated weakly with estimates of the intensity of evolutionary constraint on the anthocyanin pathway enzyme coding genes; and (iii) there was substantial gene-specific heterogeneity in the rates of synonymous site evolution. Synonymous rate heterogeneity does not appear to be accounted for by codon bias or local contextual or compositional sequence differences, leading us to implicate heterogeneous rates of mutation among genes as the most probable cause of synonymous rate heterogeneity.