Horizontal transfer of an adaptive chimeric photoreceptor from bryophytes to ferns.


Ferns are well known for their shade-dwelling habits. Their ability to thrive under low-light conditions has been linked to the evolution of a novel chimeric photoreceptor--neochrome--that fuses red-sensing phytochrome and blue-sensing phototropin modules into a single gene, thereby optimizing phototropic responses. Despite being implicated in facilitating the diversification of modern ferns, the origin of neochrome has remained a mystery. We present evidence for neochrome in hornworts (a bryophyte lineage) and demonstrate that ferns acquired neochrome from hornworts via horizontal gene transfer (HGT). Fern neochromes are nested within hornwort neochromes in our large-scale phylogenetic reconstructions of phototropin and phytochrome gene families. Divergence date estimates further support the HGT hypothesis, with fern and hornwort neochromes diverging 179 Mya, long after the split between the two plant lineages (at least 400 Mya). By analyzing the draft genome of the hornwort Anthoceros punctatus, we also discovered a previously unidentified phototropin gene that likely represents the ancestral lineage of the neochrome phototropin module. Thus, a neochrome originating in hornworts was transferred horizontally to ferns, where it may have played a significant role in the diversification of modern ferns.





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Publication Info

Li, F, JC Villarreal, S Kelly, CJ Rothfels, M Melkonian, E Frangedakis, M Ruhsam, EM Sigel, et al. (2014). Horizontal transfer of an adaptive chimeric photoreceptor from bryophytes to ferns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(18). pp. 6672–6677. 10.1073/pnas.1319929111 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/21761.

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A. Jonathan Shaw

Professor of Biology

My research centers on the evolution and diversity of bryophytes. Current projects in the lab include molecular phylogenetic analyses of familial and ordinal level relationships in the arthrodontous mosses, studies of hybridization using molecular and morphological markers, and investigations of cryptic speciation within geographically widespread species. My own particular focus (as opposed to those of post-docs and graduate students in the lab) at present is the genus Sphagnum (peatmosses). Ongoing research is grounded in phylogenetic analyses at various levels of biological organization from populations up to genus-wide. We utilize DNA sequence data from the nuclear, chloroplast, and mitochondrial genomes to infer historical processes of biodiversification. I have a special interest in the genetic structure of both rare and widespread species. Morphological and molecular information is being used to explore geographic patterns in phylogenetic diversity within the peatmosses. Of particular interest are biogeographic relationships between boreal, tropical, and Southern Hemisphere taxa, and between New and Old World taxa. Our data base presently includes nucleotide sequences from multiple loci representing some 500-600 accessions of peatmosses. Additional information about this ongoing work can be found here.

                The bryology laboratory is engaged in ongoing
                collaborative research projects with the New York
                Botanical Garden, the University of Connecticut, the
                Missouri Botanical Garden, and the University of
                Alberta. Additional information about these 

projects can be found here.

                I serve as Curator of the Bryophyte Herbarium,
                which includes approximately 230,000 collections 

of mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. The collections represent a central resource for bryological research at Duke, and we are actively integrating molecular investigations with field work and collections- based approaches.


Kathleen M. Pryer

Professor of Biology

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